Max Aguilera-Hellweg

Why do robots look so much like humans? Why do they have eyes, a nose, a mouth or hair? The reason is that scientists thought that people would feel more at ease if robots looked like us.

Uncanny Valley

But making robots look like humans knows its limits in practice. If they look too much like us, robots repel us and we feel an aversion. The Japanese scientist Masahiro Mori already described this effect in 1970. We know it under the name ‘uncanny valley’, a reference to Freud’s essay Uncanny (Das Unheimliche).


Max Aguilera-Hellweg (United States, 1955), a seasoned photojournalist who has been published in almost all major American magazines, made the first photobook with portraits of robots. For Humanoid (2017) he spent six years looking for the uncanny valley effect in Japan and America. But instead of disgust, he felt intimacy.

Positive pamphlet

In his portraits he shows the close bond between man and robot, but he also shows the technological side of the lifelike robots: the wiring in the skull, a loose hanging face. Some images are somewhat disturbing, like that of a crawling baby robot. But above all, Humanoid is a positive pamphlet. The world is irrevocably changing and robots are part of the new world. “Do not be afraid,” the photographer says. He follows in the footsteps of the famous science fiction author Isaac Asimov, who wrote positive about robots for I, Robot in the 1940s.