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Uncanny Valley: Will we ever learn to live with artificial humans?

How Japan's AKB48 has created a new level of artificial human – and what it tells us about the infamous Uncanny Valley.

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Miku sings and dances on stage as a hologram. Her moves and appearance come carefully crafted by marketers, but her voice is available for hire. Crypton Future Media sells home software that allows anyone to write songs for Miku to sing. The voice is based on a real singer, then modulated by Yamaha's Vocaloid software to make each word hit the right note.

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"There's actually a huge range of characters on this Vocaloid software," says Bentz. "They each have their own voice and tones" – even back stories.

Crypton's website describes Miku as a 16-year-old (5-foot-2 and 92 pounds) who specializes in pop/dance songs between 70 and 150 beats per minute. The company, one of several that sells Vocaloid characters, also offers 20-year-old Megurine Luka for Latin jazz songs and the adolescent pop-rock duo Len and Lynn.

In an age when living stars lean on Auto-Tune – software that corrects or artfully distorts pitch – these Vocaloid personas fit right in, says Bentz.

"People who are really good at it can make a really convincing-sounding [song]," he says.

Miku (or at least Crypton) even released a No. 1 single last year and appeared in a Toyota commercial.

Japan's humanoid acts include androids as well, although machine performers have yet to achieve true stardom. Tokyo's HRP-4 "Divabot" waves, steps, and sings to a Vocaloid beat in front of human backup dancers. This simulacrum hasn't hit the big time, though. It's stuck in the robotics-conventions circuit for now.

Lest Americans tease Japan for its artificial tastes, Bentz reminds people that Western pop stars "are still kinda fabricated and overproduced. But at least they are usually real people."

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