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Uncanny Valley make-up, what happens when human and humanoid meet?

Artificial intelligence imitates us, and we imitate it back

Uncanny Valley make-up, what happens when human and humanoid meet? Artificial intelligence imitates us, and we imitate it back

As more images created by Artificial Intelligence flood our social media feeds, we're becoming better at recognizing them. Or at least, we should be. There are the hands, always a bit strange, the background details often confusing, a general sense of plasticity and artificiality that alerts our senses. It tells our brain and eyes that there's something unreal, something artificial in what we're looking at. A kind of underlying uneasiness, an animal instinct to recognize what is ours and what is not. Even as image generators become more sophisticated and hide their flaws, we continue to feel this seemingly unexplainable sensation. What is it all about?

The Origin of the Uncanny Valley

This phenomenon is captured under the term "Uncanny Valley." As far back as 1970, Japanese robotics professor Masahiro Mori coined the expression to describe the feeling humans experience when dealing with a robot (or anything non-human) trying to be as human-like as possible. It's a specific distrust, a disturbance. A feeling under the skin that makes us wary, for example, when watching videos of the robot Sophia or when viewing the 2019 film "Cats" with its CGI humanoid cats—too human to be cats and too cat-like to be human. This theory is supported by a 2019 study identifying which areas of the brain reject or accept artificial entities as they approach too closely to human features.

The TikTok Trend Mimicking the Humanoid

A new beauty trend on TikTok aims to reproduce the Uncanny Valley sensation, not through the use of artificial intelligence but with makeup. Users of all ages, genders, and nationalities are seen applying makeup not to impress someone or hide flaws, but to appear unreal and discomfort those who watch them. There are various methods to achieve this effect, such as theatrical contouring, exaggeration of facial features, synthetic wigs, eyebrow erasure using glue and concealer, smaller or cartoonish eyes. The effect is always the same: subtly unsettling, as if something has infiltrated the fabric of reality, making it imperceptibly elusive, very close and yet very far away.

@yodelinghaley I feel so unserious bc i flopped at the makeup dc @Emilia Barth Brutus (Instrumental) - The Buttress

A Role Reversal

With the advent of AI and all the debates surrounding it, questioning it from various perspectives, is it absurd to think that this ambiguous fascination has turned into a desire for imitation? A way to control an uncontrollable feeling through reproduction? A kind of double movement. On one hand, a claim of the potentially unsettling creative power of makeup; on the other, taking control of mechanisms that make us uncomfortable. It's like saying, "I can be uncanny too." A reversal of roles. While artificial intelligences imitate us, we imitate them and the feelings they evoke, for fun or for study. A kind of role exchange, a deliberate chaos, if only for a moment. Humans making themselves humanoid and then looking at themselves from the outside, disturbed. 

@bright.eyesss #uncannyvalley #prank original sound - Taylor Skeens

Microtrends of Escaping Reality

And it's a success. The hashtag #uncannyvalley has over 150 million views. Each video is accompanied by the same eerie melody from the introduction of Brutus, a track by rapper The Buttress. For those who can't apply makeup precisely, a filter has even been created so they can participate in the trend regardless of their skills with pencils, brushes, and eyeshadows. It meets #weirdcore and #dreamcore, other very predominant trends on the app that now splinter into a thousand subgenres and microtrends, all signaling this desire to distance oneself from reality while subtly feeling unease and concern for the reality we want to escape but that pursues us, inevitable.

@magi0225 跟著潮流走,恐佈谷妝容 #uncannyvalley #trend#uncannyvalleystare #makeup #creepylook Brutus (Instrumental) - The Buttress

A Mirror of Our Anxieties

Using makeup to repel, to scare, and not just to attract, as war paint and not just as a conquest and courtship paint, is not new. For years, the beauty world has sought to break free from its chains of femininity, health, and delicacy to become something else. An example is the "unapproachable makeup." However, with the Uncanny Valley, we go beyond. In a hybrid world, the meeting of real and artificial, imitation and reality, in a fascinating and confusing play of mirrors, a perfect emanation of the fluidity and confusion of contemporary times, looking at Artificial Intelligence with both fear and admiration.