In robotics and computer graphics, there is a concept known as the uncanny valley. Humans tend to find robots and animated characters that look vaguely human-ish charming and cute. But as those bots and figures take on more and more human characteristics, particularly movement, that empathy disappears and is replaced by revulsion — unless the simulation is nearly perfect. It’s one of the theories behind why moviegoers hated the jerky humans in the film “The Polar Express” but loved the bumbling, junk-collecting machine in “Wall-E.”
Is there also an uncanny valley that applies to our level of comfort and discomfort around what companies, services, virtual helpers and machines know about us and how they use that information?
Good question. When does Google, or indeed any company, cross the creepy line? This seems to be a very personal question. Some people don’t care about Google’s silos of personal data, while others avoid that at any cost. That Google Now knows when I commute and for how long feels like it crosses that line.