When it comes to integrating artificial intelligence (AI) into the nonprofit sector, there’s an emerging trend that organizations need to be mindful of – the use of humanoid AI avatars. While these avatars can offer a novel and engaging way to interact with audiences, they can also pose certain risks that could potentially harm an organization’s reputation and engagement efforts. One of these risks is falling into the ‘uncanny valley’ – a concept coined by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970.
The ‘uncanny valley’ refers to the unsettling or eerie feeling people experience when they encounter an AI avatar or robot that looks and behaves almost – but not quite – like a human. As these avatars become more human-like, people’s positive responses towards them tend to increase. However, if they approach a point of being almost indistinguishable from a real human, yet still possess clearly non-human characteristics, people’s reactions can shift dramatically from positive to negative.
This adverse response is often triggered by features such as lifeless eyes, synthetic voices, stiff facial expressions, or awkward movements. These elements can heighten the perception of the AI as an ‘other’, triggering a sense of discomfort or even revulsion in human observers.
The risk of falling into the ‘uncanny valley’ is particularly high with humanoid AI avatars. Despite advances in technology, most AI avatars today still possess non-human characteristics that make them fall into this valley. This can result in unsettling user experiences, potentially alienating audiences instead of engaging them.
Therefore, for nonprofits considering the use of AI avatars, it may be more beneficial to opt for clearly non-human avatars. These can still offer an engaging and interactive way for audiences to connect with an organization, without the risk of unsettling them.
Non-human avatars like ‘Chippy’ are less likely to fall into the ‘uncanny valley’ as they don’t strive to mimic human appearance or behavior. They can still effectively communicate an organization’s mission or services, whilst avoiding the potential pitfalls associated with humanoid AI avatars.
We are entering an era where AI is becoming increasingly integrated into our daily lives. For nonprofit organizations, this presents exciting opportunities to connect with audiences in new and innovative ways. However, it’s also important to navigate this terrain with caution. By being mindful of the ‘uncanny valley’ and opting for non-human AI avatars, nonprofits can leverage the benefits of AI whilst minimizing the risks.
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