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Lectures in Musicology: Ritwik Banerji, University of Cincinnati

Guest lecturer Ritwik Banerji (Film and Media Studies, University of Cincinnati), presents a virtual lecture, "Undesirable Humanness: An Ethnography of the Uncanny Valley" at 4 p.m. Eastern time.

The “uncanny valley” hypothesis purports that the more a nonhuman entity evinces humanlike presence, the more likely it is to elicit a sensation of disgust in its human interlocutor. While this phenomenon has been observed in a variety of domains where engineers or designers have constructed humanlike machines or algorithmic social agents, underlying causes of this sensation of disgust or revulsion remain poorly understood.

In this talk, Banerji argues that the uncanny valley is often a result of the machine’s rather accurate reenactment of disagreeable behavior the human interlocutor has encountered in past interactions with fellow human beings. To do so, this talk focuses on Banerji's work with an experimental ethnographic methodology in which he has designed virtual performers of free improvisation and subjected these to the critique of human improvisers in Berlin, Chicago and San Francisco. While most accounts of the uncanny valley assume that revulsion at the nonhuman simulation of humanlike presence stems from the mechanical quality of these objects, the ethnographic materials presented here suggest that the true object of disgust may not be the machine, but the other human beings. Similarly, though the uncanny valley is taken as the system’s failure to conjure humanness, the speaker suggests that the sensation of revulsion arises from the irony that these humanlike technologies often do succeed in accurately producing human presence that violates the human interlocutor’s conception of sociocultural norms.

Learn more about the event and register here.