All is full of love

Bjork, robots… the uncanny.


“Modern concepts of the uncanny can be traced back to two major essays: Wilhelm Jentsch’s, ‘On the Psychology of the Uncanny’ (1906), and Freud’s ‘The Uncanny’ (1919). 1919 also saw the release of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Rutherford’s discovery of the proton, the first episode of the constantly re-animated ‘Itchy and Scratchy’(according to the internal history of ‘The Simpsons’) and the Theremin invented by its namesake, making it a good year all round. The ‘uncanny’ derives from the German unheimlich, loosely seen as meaning ‘un homely’. There are many readings and interpretations of the term, but many centre upon the concept of the animation of apparently inanimate objects, and can be applied to technologies including the animated image, the dislocated and disembodied voice when using a mobile phone, and the ‘uncanny valley’ of cybernetic automata.

“However, a base characteristic of the uncanny as argued by both Freud and Jentsch is that it occurs when animate and inanimate objects become confused, when objects behave in a way which imitate life, and thus blur the cultural, psychological and material boundaries between life and death, leading to what Jentsch called ‘Intellectual Uncertainty’- that things appear not to be what they are, and as such our reasoning may need re-structuring to make sense of the phenomenon.

“The simplest and most universal example of this is the reanimation of the dead; ghosts, zombies, poltergeist activity and communication from the ‘other side’ all form part of the psychology of the relationship that the living have towards the dead, and towards their own death. A corpse creates feelings of the uncanny as it is life-like (for it was once alive), and reminds the viewer of his or her own approaching death, the animate imagining the inanimate, and the possibility that the inanimate could be animated again.”

Technology and The Uncanny

You look smashing in that dress

By the year 2050, Levy claims, social attitudes and robotic technologies will have evolved to the point that “humans will fall in love with robots, humans will marry robots, and humans will have sex with robots, all as (what will be regarded as) ‘normal’ extensions of our feelings of love and sexual desire for other humans”

“In 1816, the German Romantic fabulist ETA Hoffmann published his unsettling short story “The Sandman”, in which a moody university student falls in love with and passionately woos a pretty but uncommonly reserved young woman, only to lose his mind and leap to his death when he discovers that she is in fact a cunningly built automaton.

“A century later, when Sigmund Freud wrote his essay on “The Uncanny”, tracing the various ways that corpses, ghosts, coincidences, and other things ambiguously suspended between one order of being and another can provoke unease and alarm, it was no accident that out of all the literary examples he could have chosen from, Freud picked Hoffmann’s “Sandman” for his Exhibit A. It was as true then as it is now: nothing says “creepiness defined” like the prospect of human intimacy with robots.

“This is apparently news to David Levy. Or if it isn’t, don’t look for the evidence in his oddly – very oddly – fascinating new book, Love and Sex With Robots. Levy’s thesis (and it’s precisely that: at the age of 61, after decades as a successful, self-taught expert on computer chess, he submitted this book by way of a dissertation to the University of Maastricht’s computer science department and came away with a PhD) is as straightforward as it is brazen.

“By the year 2050, Levy claims, social attitudes and robotic technologies will have evolved to the point that “humans will fall in love with robots, humans will marry robots, and humans will have sex with robots, all as (what will be regarded as) ‘normal’ extensions of our feelings of love and sexual desire for other humans”.

Want to do the Turing test in bed?



During the early days of atomic bomb experiments in the 1940s, nuclear weapons scientists had some difficulty studying the growth of nuclear fireballs in test detonations. These fireballs expanded so rapidly that even the best cameras of that time were unable to capture anything more than a blurry, over-exposed frame for the first several seconds of the explosion.

Before long a professor of electrical engineering from MIT named Harold Eugene “Doc” Edgerton invented the rapatronic camera, a device capable of capturing images from the fleeting instant directly following a nuclear explosion. These single-use cameras were able to snap a photo one ten-millionth of a second after detonation from about seven miles away, with an exposure time of as little as ten nanoseconds. At that instant, a typical fireball had already reached about 100 feet in diameter, with temperatures three times hotter than the surface of the sun.

Edgerton was a pioneer in high-speed photography, receiving a bronze medal from the Royal Photographic Society in 1934 for his work in strobe photography. He used the technique to photograph many events that typical cameras were much too slow to capture, such as the instant of a balloon bursting, and bullets impacting various materials. He developed the rapatronic camera about ten years later, for the specific purpose of photographing nuclear explosions for the government.

n a typical setup at a nuclear test site, a series of ten or so rapatronic cameras were necessary, because each was able to take only one photograph… no mechanical film advance system was anywhere neat fast enough to allow for a second photo. Another mechanical limitation which had to be overcome was the shutter mechanism. Mechanical shutters were incapable of moving quickly enough to capture the instant one ten-millionth of a second after detonation, so Edgerton’s ingenious cameras used a unique non-mechanical shutter which utilized the polarization of light.

From Damn