The Uncanny Valley
By Ninnik Nishukan
Summary: The Uncanny Valley is a hypothesis about robotics concerning the emotional response of humans to robots and other non-human entities. A younger Dr. Drakken and his newly-hired assistant Shego experience the effect of it first-hand. Pre-series Drakken and Shego friendship. No romance, but plenty of Drakken and Shego interaction.
"…and just how long have you been working on these robot girls of yours, anyway?"
"A long time," came the muttered reply.
"Why a robot girl? Why not a robot guy?"
Finally he looked up, blinking in perplexity at his assistant, who was looking slightly bored as she leaned on his worktop, examining her nails. "I fail to see where it would matter, Miss Shego. They aren't actually 'girls' or 'guys' either way since they're not actually human."He pointed out. "The differences are merely in the cosmetic details. There would be no change in physical strength, for example."
She flashed a crooked smirk. "And here I thought you were gonna say it makes them more user friendly."
He gave her a long, withering look. "I suppose that was intended to be funny, was it?"
"I try," she replied with a grin and a shrug.
Groaning almost inaudibly, he pointed the screwdriver he was holding in the general direction of the door. "Anyway, you've given me the new parts I needed for them now. You could just…you're excused. You don't have to hang around."
For some reason, she was looking mildly offended now. "I'm excused? Well, thank you very much."
He frowned at her. "Look, I don't know what you want. You've done your job, and now I have work to do. Stop bothering me and…go home or something."
She stared at him in disbelief for a few seconds before she turned on her heel and left. "Jerk," He heard her mutter just before the door slammed shut.
He shot a puzzled glance at the door before returning to work.
It was only later that evening that it occurred to him that she'd only wanted to chat. And then he had to wonder if she did in fact know anybody in Middleton yet or not. He frowned over the matter as he ate his dinner. A green-skinned super hero turned villain couldn't be very popular or sociable, now could she? And she did always seem to hang around after she'd dropped off whatever she'd stolen for him that evening, like she didn't have anything better to do.
Like she had no one to meet later. Like she didn't particularly feel like going home.
Dr. Drakken pondered the matter further as he brushed his teeth that night, and finally had an idea.
He saw potential.
The girl seemed competent, her fighting skills superb, her super powers fascinating— and definitely a subject for further studies— and she had a good head on her shoulders and both her feet planted firmly on the ground. She wasn't a dreamer like him, but that was okay, because he was the evil genius around here, and he didn't need another one; he needed exactly the opposite, in fact. And he needed a more highly skilled henchperson…
No, not a henchperson.
And since she didn't seem to have any ties to anything else and was free to put in the full time and effort it required, she was the perfect candidate for the job.
She'd been working for him now for the better part of a year, but so far he hadn't really called on her all that often. All he seemed to need her for was stealing stuff for him to make his creepy robots with and things like that. She'd imagined that working with a super villain would be more exciting than that, and she was getting bored and restless. Just as she started contemplating resigning and looking for a different employer, however, there was a change.
At some point, he suddenly started referring to her as his 'sidekick', for reasons unknown. That was right after he began calling on her more often. Happy to finally have more things to do, she didn't comment on the sidekick thing, simply countering by taking up calling him 'Blue'. 'Doctor Drakken' was such a mouthful, anyway, and far more formal that she was going to bother being.
All of a sudden he started to keep her around several days a week, making her his lab assistant and prompting her to start training his sadly rather incompetent henchmen—and the biggest change of all was that where he'd been preoccupied and dismissive before, he now suddenly started talking to her. And talking and talking and talking…
One Thursday, there was nothing for her to do when she came over to the lair, and it slowly dawned on her that he'd called her over simply to have someone to rant to.
It made her feel indignant that he would have no qualms with wasting her time like that, but at the same time it was pretty okay to be paid to sit on her butt reading magazines and drinking coffee, only occasionally having to get up to fetch him some techno-something-or-other that he could've easily fetched for himself from the table across the floor.
It reminded her of her early teens, when she'd gotten paid to babysit kids who'd already gone to bed so she was free to scarf down the family's snacks and watch their video collection. It was a sweet deal, really, and besides, she didn't mind an opportunity to get to know more about her employer. Even she had to admit she was curious. It was the first time she'd ever worked with a villain, and it was kind of interesting in a this-guy-is-seriously-eccentric kind of way.
Besides, she didn't really know anyone in the city despite having lived there for several months, so she appreciated the company, even if the company was a blue-skinned, self-proclaimed genius mad scientist type who seemed to be completely bipolar, going from giddy to sinister every five seconds.
At least it kept things interesting. The guy was a one man show.
One moment he'd be offering her donuts to go with her coffee, and the next moment he'd be telling her in detail how he was planning to take over the world.
Nope, definitely not boring. Now if he'd only keep his ranting to a minimum and accept her inputs of common sense into his streams of evil inspiration, she was sure they could get along…
Looking up from her magazine, Shego suddenly noticed that Dr. Drakken had wandered off somewhere. Her eyes flashed to the doorway to the kitchen and back to his worktop before she got to her feet abruptly, tossing her magazine on the table. She'd been curious about the double doors at the back of the lab all day. She knew he kept his robot there, and she figured that since she was the one who'd been stealing parts for it the last few months, she deserved to see it. She could get in at least a glance before he came back. It wasn't as if he'd forbid her to see it or anything, but he hadn't offered to show it to her, either, so from that she assumed he might not want her to see it— so of course she had to.
Hurrying across the floor, she pulled the doors open—
It was standing right inside the door. And it looked nothing like what she'd imagined. It was stream-lined, sleek and well-proportioned— not at all like the clanky box on legs that she'd thought it might be. She blinked a bit as she slowly took in the odd design of it; it reminded her of a lot of the girls in early James Bond movies. She'd known it was a robot girl, but jeez— he'd given it hair.
Hair and a face and clothing and arms and legs and hands that could reach out for you just like a person—
She shuddered as she took a step back and paused by the door, watching its faintly glowing, slanted eyes on its gleaming metal face in the dark, and listened to the quiet hum of dormant energy coming from it, a discomfiting feeling creeping up on her as the outline of the robot looked far too much like a human being…
"What is it, Sidekick? Don't like my robot?"
She nearly leapt out of her skin, but managed to stay calm. She'd been so preoccupied she hadn't even heard his approach. He didn't seem to be upset that she'd snuck a peek while he was gone, so she decided to just ignore it as well. He didn't look like he expected an apology. "Seriously, it is a little…creepy." She admitted.
His soft chuckle reverberated off of the walls of the cavernous room. "The Uncanny Valley, huh?"
She glanced up at him, perplexed. "The what-now?"
Drakken shrugged as he calmly took a bite out of the grilled cheese sandwich he'd been making. "The Uncanny Valley, Miss Shego. It's a theory in robotics that was introduced by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970—"
Shego rolled her eyes. "Skip the history lesson and give me the important details, Blue."
Drakken shot her an annoyed glance before clearing his throat. "Mori's 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 repulsion." Drakken went on, sounding like he was remembering something he'd read somewhere. "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."
"Uh huh." She nodded slowly. "And this name you said? The Uncanny Valley?"
"Well, that 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."
"Right."Shego said vaguely as she glanced at the robot.
"So it's all to do with how comfortable or uncomfortable people are when seeing non-human beings look or act a lot like humans."Drakken said, taking another bite out of the grilled cheese. "There's a definite pain limit there."
"You're tellin' me…"Shego muttered as she took another step away from the robot. She didn't know what the robot was capable of yet, but in terms of appearance, it had definitely passed into The Uncanny Valley as far as she was concerned. It might be made of metal, but its shape was far too human.
"So that's why Bebe is freaking you out," Drakken concluded cheerfully, waving the grilled cheese sandwich at his creation.
Shego spun around, gaping at him. "You gave the thing a name? And you named it Bebe?"
Author's note: Just a story I decided to write to possibly explain why Shego was absent during Attack of the Killer Bebes. That, and I just wanted to explore what their partnership was like the first year they were working together, especially before they ever encountered Kim Possible.
I lifted most of Drakken's explanation of The Uncanny Valley from the wiki article about it.