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The Uncanny Valley at Delta

Pete Brown - 14 July 2008

The Uncanny Valley is that interesting little dip in our reaction to near-human movement and appearance. It shows that the more human-like something becomes, the more we notice that it is not human. An example of this is a cartoon vs. something like the very uncanny characters in Polar Express. You don’t think much about how the cartoon character moves, but you’ll notice every misplaced muscle or odd facial crease in the characters in Polar Express.


So, it turns out that the star of the new Delta safety video is not some inhuman construct but a real person. I’m not ruling out modifications, though, as when watching the video, I found myself wondering if she was the latest in Japanese technology and able to pass the Turing test or if she’d adhere to the three laws. I think she falls squarely into the valley.

I’ve seen the new video on a 737, 767 and 757 in middle-aisle tube displays, drop-down lcd panels, and the nifty back of seat lcd linux terminals on the 767) all within a few days, and my opinion was strengthened each time.

It’s hard to convey from a still photo, but watch this to see the whole video (yes, the safety video is online). There’s something very oddly manufactured about her look (ok, several things that I could point out, but I’ll leave that to you to discover). The overall approach to the video and production quality is great, but she lends a definite creepiness despite (or perhaps because of) her good acting and happy demeanor.

posted by Pete Brown on Monday, July 14, 2008
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3 comments for “The Uncanny Valley at Delta”

  1. Erik Thygesensays:
    I saw this too a couple of times flying from New York to Amsterdam and yes I agree there is something manufactured about her. She is real, but her lips are unnatural and looks like they've been shot with botox.
    Her staring eyes that never changes focus or direction is definitively also a creep factor.
    Besides that her acting is good and precise which makes her more unnatural.
    The lighting doesn't help because the light is very strong making the room look sterile and cold.
    I guess this how they liked it.
  2. stevesays:
    I think she was filmed infront of green screen. I don't think she is actually in the cabin with the others in the plane which may lead to the 'uncanny' feeling of the video. She's obviously had a few 'modifications' done to her face which also leads to the 'uncanny' feeling of the video. In this example of the 'uncanny valley' it rates near a distraction (enough to hold your interest in the dry subject of safety) but not enough to 'creep' you out! It's interesting that most of the comments on the youtube end of the video are positive - but most definitely say there's something strange. By design or by accident the video does produce results of holding the veiwers attention so they understand the content.

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