Monday, May 17, 2010

Chatting With Mickey

Raise your hand if you’ve had this conversation with your child after a Mickey meet and greet:

Child:  Why wouldn’t Mickey talk to me, Mommy?
Mommy: Well honey, Mickey meets a lot of kids each day, and if he spoke with all of them, his throat would get sore.  He needs to save his voice for the shows and parades.
Child:  But Cinderella and Snow White talked to me!
Mommy (hesitating slightly): Yes, but they aren’t in as many shows as Mickey.  Mickey is a very popular guy.
Daddy (whispering to Mommy): Nice save!
Child: But Tigger wouldn’t talk to me either, and he’s not in very many shows.
Mommy (in a panic): Oh look; balloons!  Would you like Mommy to buy you a balloon? 

And just think: you wanted to have intelligent and inquisitive children.

But seriously, this has been an issue since Disneyland opened in 1955.  You just can’t expect all of the “friends of Mickey” to be able to emulate his unique voice.  As always, Disney is sensitive to the needs of their guests.  Have you seen this video that’s been circulating the web?

How awesome is that? Of course, it is just in a testing phase now. And even if it does get implemented, you never know how long it will be around. I have never gotten to personally meet Lucky the Dinosaur or the Muppet Mobile Lab, for example. That said, I am so hoping that this does work, and becomes the future standard for Disney meet and greets.

Now, some people find this Mickey a little creepy. My husband tells me that this is because of the “uncanny valley” effect. This hypothesis states that as a robot is made more humanlike in its appearance and motion, the emotional response from a human being to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong revulsion. However, as the appearance and motion continue to become less distinguishable from a human being, the emotional response becomes positive once more and approaches human-to-human empathy levels. This area of repulsive response aroused by a robot with appearance and motion between a "barely human" and "fully human" entity is called the uncanny valley. The name captures the idea that a robot which is "almost human" will seem overly "strange" to a human being and thus will fail to evoke the empathic response required for productive human-robot interaction.

Personally, I think he looks fabulous, and the princesses in the video didn’t seem to have any issues with him. It’s taking the Turtle Talk with Crush and Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor Comedy Club technology to a new and better level. But what do you think? Let me know over at!

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