Mitt Romney and the Uncanny Valley: Almost Human, But Not Quite

I don't like discussing politics, because I'm thinking about the long term, and politics- even the politics of an election for the leader of the world's richest nation- are still going to end up as a mere footnote in the history books. As the Jesus of atheism, my genius is simply too valuable to waste on on politics, however large and important they may seem. I like to think about the big picture.


Earth, The Blue Marble

Specifically, this one.

But today I'm going to talk about something I've been wanting to discuss for awhile, and handily, I get to tie one of my short stories into the the whole deal, because it's relevant. Also because I get to shamelessly promote it so people can download more (free) copies.

Years ago, I wrote a short story about a phenomenon I wasn't completely familiar with, but knew simply had to exist. I knew it was there, and how it worked, I just didn't know what it was called, and I certainly didn't know that there had been studies done about it it. It's called the Uncanny Valley, and here's a great video explaining all about it.

Basically, the Uncanny Valley has to do with human-like things such as robots or cartoon characters. As things, which are clearly not human, are given human-like attributes, they become more appealing and charming. So if you take a box and give it some robot arms, you've got a cute, charming robot buddy. Same thing with cartoons. If you draw a simple cartoon that's supposed to represent a human, you can give them features that are clearly not realistic- like huge heads or tiny hands- and it can still be cute and charming.

It's when you start adding more detail that the problems begin. If you were to, say, give your boxbot synthetic skin and human eyes, then your robot isn't charming or cute anymore, it's just creepy.

That's the Uncanny Valley.

We humans can tell when something is trying to be human, but isn't quite there yet. And it causes us all kinds of negative feelings. Revulsion, disgust, even fear- it just generally upsets us.

That's what The Mad Scientist about. Dwayne, my main character, is a decent human being. But for some reason, he finds that he absolutely hates the bus driver that drives his bus to work every morning. Why? He doesn't know. He wouldn't wish harm on anybody, for any reason... he just has this strange feeling that the guy driving the bus that he takes to work needs to have a bowling ball driven through his skull.

Then he meets a guy who calls himself The Mad Scientist, and Dwayne finds out that the reason that the bus driver makes him feel so violently is because the bus driver is not actually human. He looks human, but there's something 'off' about him, something that he can't quite put his finger on.

The Mad Scientist explains to Dwayne: The bus driver isn't human, it's a robot. A civil servant whose job is to drive a bus, and look every bit as human as Dwayne. Except he doesn't. There's something indescribably wrong about the bus driver, and it'd driving Dwayne crazy.

And now that Dwayne knows that the bus driver isn't a human, why does he have to treat the driver as human?


STOP. Hammer time.

I wouldn't recommend going on sledgehammer-wielding rampage like Dwayne did, though.

So... why am I talking about this?

Simple. Because that unsettling feeling you get... that feeling of nausea or of sickness or that something isn't quite right...

That's the feeling that I get when I see Mitt Romney.

I don't know what it is. I can't describe it. I can't explain it. It's in his smile:


It's in his laugh:

It's in his jokes:

It has little to do with politics or of culture or of left-wing versus right-wing... it's just the feeling I get when I see Mitt Romney. Like he had heard about humans socially interacting and experiencing joy, perhaps had even seen it, but had never quite tried it himself.

He has all the components. He's highly detailed, has skin, hair, lifeless eyes, and nice clothes, but there's something missing, like the cosmic creators of the Universe weren't quite finished with him yet.

Mitt Romney is the Uncanny Valley.

Almost human.











See you next week.

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