I/O Intuitive/Object // Panel Discussion: The Uncanny Valley


What is life?

Science cannot tell us. Since the time of Aristotle, philosophers and scientists have struggled and failed to produce a precise, universally accepted definition of life. Modern textbooks have identified characteristics that supposedly distinguish the living from the inanimate -- self-organization, growth, reproduction and evolution. There are numerous exceptions, however, of both living things that lack some of the ostensibly distinctive features of life and inanimate things that have properties of the living.

Crystals, for example, are highly organized; they grow; and they faithfully replicate their structures, but we do not think of them as alive. Similarly, certain computer programs known as “digital organisms” can swarm, reproduce, mate and evolve, but ushering such software through the gates of the kingdom of life makes many people uncomfortable.

Can we intuit the capacity for a certain consciousness -- a privilege reserved for humans -- to an expanding body of electronics? At what point does a copy machine or a smartphone cross the hallowed threshold into the world of a perceptive, living being? If a machine "watches", is it truly "seeing"? Are we revealing more about ourselves than we realize?

Join us for a discussion with the artists Michael Mersereau and Yoann Resmond and panelists Andrew Warner(Technical Production & Public Communication Lead at The Long Now Foundation) and Jacob Palmer(StoreFrontLab Curator) as we explore the fuzzy distinction between the inanimate object and the biological, responsive being.

*The Uncanny Valley describes the phenomenon whereby a computer-generated figure or humanoid robot bears a near-identical resemblance to a human being, and thus arousing a sense of unease or revulsion in the person viewing it.