Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Groundhog Day Musings

Sometimes, it seems like PETA is a front organization that acts as a straw man for right-wing opponents of animal rights groups. PETA's efforts to get the town of Fishkill come to mind as one of those WTF? moments. Well, here's another one... Gemma Vaughn of PETA sent a letter to the The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club requesting that they replace famed groundhog Punxsutawney Phil with an animatronic simulacrum.

PETA executive vice president Tracy Reiman was quoted in Lindsay Barnett's LA Times article saying a robotic woodchuck "would attract new and curious tourists" to the annual Groundhog Day celebration, but I am not so sure that such visitors would be welcome at a family-friendly celebration.

In the article, Lindsay Barnett wrote that the Groundhog Club is sending Phil-oriented text messages, and quips: And a text-messaging groundhog, strange as it may seem, is still far preferable to a creepy, robotic one.

Now, how lifelike would a robotic groundhog have to be to not be creepy? In the field of Artificial Intelligence research, the Turing test refers to a machine's ability to mimic human thought processes to the extent that a human can be fooled into believing that it is another human. In robotics, the concept of the Uncanny Valley refers to a hypothetical point at which a imperfect simulacrum of a human is perceived with revulsion when it reaches a certain level of versimilitude. E.G. not creepy, creepy. Now, both the Turing test and the Uncanny Valley refer to simulated humans- what about a groundhog? Are these concepts broadly applicable to a non-anthropomorphic figure? I am inclined to say no, so I propose the following in cases of simulated rodents: the question of whether an artificial rodent can fool a human observer should be known as the Murine test, and the degree of creepiness of a rodent simulacrum should be known as the Uncanny Burrow.

Of course, I cannot claim to be a neutral observer when it comes to woodchuck-related events, as my most bitter rival is a woodchuck.

Note: While trying to ascertain the gender of Lindsay Barnett, I found this article, which suggests to me that Lindsay Barnett is the go-to person when it comes to rodent-related topics.

Postscript: As readers of a certain gent from Providence will no doubt realize, February 2 is also Candlemas. Here's hoping the whipporwills don't get anyone! As an added odd bit, while searching for a picture of Uncle Howard, I found this group. Their name seems to suggest that they make biofuels out of the fat of sacrificial victims...


Substance McGravitas said...

The key question here is whether or not the robot groundhog will fight other robots near Megan Fox.

Smut Clyde said...

I got your uncanny right here.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

I got your uncanny right here.