Exploring the Uncanny Valley [Updated]

Earlier this semester, I made two projects that both explore the Uncanny Valley but via two different medium – one with voice technology while the other with a 3D scanned avatar of myself. I am really interested in how the uncanny valley is being used in art and movies and would like to extend one into my final project for this class.

Interview with Madbunnykim is an interview video with celebrity artist Madbunnykim who exists only in the virtual space. Madbunnykim unravels her pretentious persona as she shares a slice of life with her audience in response to issues in the current art world. By juxtaposing the sense of uncanny with humor, Madbunnykim explores her digital identity through an avatar of the artist’s likeness with a synthetic voice.

Sad Bunny is a sniffling, sobbing Google Home I created as a digital representation of myself. Unlike a normal assistant, Sad Bunny demanded her user’s attention to listen to her intimate details with her romantic experiences as well as give her advices for risky situations. I was curious about how much human emotion can be delivered through a synthetic voice and the outcome was that people felt funny in the beginning when the script started as a romcom yet they actually empathized the virtual assistant in the end as she showed her vulnerability through voice.

 

After reading about designing personas and user journeys as well as work by Adrian Howells and Blast Theory’s app Karen as Nick suggested, I decided to polish my idea by starting with the first two exercises.

 

Persona

Hard facts:

Originally from LA, California, Laura is currently living in a small studio in Brooklyn. She is 26 year old and a full-time graduate student at ITP NYU.

Interestes and Values:

Laura is a jet settler. She travels every summer and winter. She spent last Christmas in Berlin and 10 days in London this past summer. She loves going out and meeting people. She keeps close contact with friends she met during her trips. However, she values her time at ITP a lot so she hasn’t been spending much time socializing or traveling since she started the program.

Computer, Internet and TV Use:

Laura owns an iPhone and a MSI. She uses primarily Unreal Engine on her computer to produce VR games and 3D animations. She uses the internet on her iPhone to go on her instagram to post about her work. She owns a TV but doesn’t use it often because she is currently spending most of her time in school.

A Typical Day:

1. Laura gets up at 10am. She eats breakfast at home and leaves for school at 11am.

2. Depending on her schedule, she attends a class, works on her own project or attends a group meeting.

3. She takes a 15 minute coffee break and continues to work.

4. Depending on her schedule, she either orders take out or grabs dinner nearby at 8pm and continues to work until 11pm in school or at home.

5. She goes to bed between 1 and 2am.

Future Goals:

Laura wishes to work in a VR production company once she finishes her masters. She wants to have a more balanced schedule where she can leave home early but also return by 6pm. She wants to focus on her career at least for the next three years so she is not thinking about marriage at the moment.

 

User Journey

Context:

Laura arrives home at 10pm. She is exhausted from another long day in school yet what is bothering her more was questioning what the guy she went on four dates with is looking for. She is alone in the apartment and wants to discuss her trouble with someone. She knows her girlfriends will tell her to not see the guy again but she doesn’t want to accept that yet. She decides to consult a digital therapist.

Progression:

She turns to her Google Home situated at the corner of her desk and asks:

Talk to Dr. Audrey

(Four dots on the device blinks)

Dr A: I sense that you have some boy problems. Tell me more. 

Laura: I have been seeing someone lately. 

Dr A: How many dates have you been on? 

(Conversation goes on)

Devices:

Google Home voice assistant.

Functionality:

The responsiveness of the device is the functionality of the product and is achievable.

Emotion:

Laura is engaged and curious in the beginning when asking her Google Home for advices but is surprised, annoyed and a little lost as to what to do when the device starts reverting the emotional labor role.

 

Concept

To reiterate my idea, I want to explore the discomfort of interpreting human emotions through a synthetic voice that is easily recognized as a conventional voice assistant. Rather than just presenting it as an art piece, I also speculate whether giving personal devices personalities to better simulate their owner’s situation could work as a product.

Drawing much inspiration from Blast Theory’s app Karen, I want to create a virtual therapist with Google Home. I chose Google Home because we tend to view those voice assistants as some sort of non-judgmental devices that we can not only give them impossible requests or tedious tasks that we are too lazy to do ourselves but also share with them things we want to keep private. They are always listening like a therapist and we value their responses. I want to start Dr. Audrey as a normal relationship therapist asking her patient questions to get to know her situation. She consoles her patient throughout the session but all of a sudden begins sharing her own intimate experience. She stops letting her patient talk and asks for her advices instead.

Progress

I have been developing the script and will have several lines ready for people to test out in class tomorrow on DialogFlow. It will be helpful for me to learn how people respond so that I can better understand what to put for user intents to design a smoother interaction.

 

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