Uncanny Valley

We mostly think of robots as work machines, as efficient and precise executors of tasks. In German industry, they barely look like people, to avoid emotional complications. Unlike in Asia, where humanoid robots have already been developed for some time, for example for care-work or as sex partners. The external similarity to human beings makes the acceptance of machines easier. However, if the machine is too similar to a human, we begin to feel mistrust: what is human, what is machine? Japanese robotics researchers call this weird similarity the “uncanny valley”.

For his new play, Stefan Kaegi works with a writer and playwright for the first time: Thomas Melle allowed an animatronic double of himself to be made. This humanoid takes the author’s place and throws up questions: what does it mean for the original when the copy takes over? Does the original get to know himself better through his electronic double? Do the copy and his original compete or do they help each other?

This special screening, which Kundura Stage (Kundura Sahne) met with the audience online between January 15 and March 1, 2021, was Kaegi’s humanoid robotic performance “Uncanny Valley”  that was well received and brought the use of artificial intelligence to a new threshold when it was staged in 2018 . The play, in which we will see a humanoid robot, copied and produced with reference to the extraordinary writer of German literature Thomas Melle, on the stage alone, narrays the author’s journey of literature and his manic-depressive experiences starting from his childhood. The play that derives from the concept of ‘Uncanny Valley’ which was used for the first time in the 1970s by the Japanese robotist Masahiro Mori and which describes the uncanny and existential uncertainty that people live in when they encounter humanoid machines, takes the audience in this uncanny space where the questions of ‘what is human’ and ‘what is a machine’ are coalesced into one. It offers an engaging viewing experience as well as annoying. You can find detailed information about the play, which attracted great attention when it was screened with Turkish subtitles on Kundura Blog, on the following page of Rimini Protokoll and you can read articles and interviews about Uncanny Valley on our blog.