The Technium

More Wubble

I’m going to coin a term for the imperfection that is added to synthetic creations in order to give them the appearance of reality. I suggest the term “wubble.”

An example of wubble is the “ums” and “ahs” and hesitations that Google Duplex AI adds to their artificial conversation bot. “I am…umm.. going to be late. Maybe at …aah… 6?” These bits of imperfect speech are added because they are the kind of mistakes robots do not make, but imperfect humans do. We unconsciously expect them in humans, so if we hear ums in speech we tend to believe it is made by humans.

When George Lucas was inventing an old alien civilization in Star Wars he had the special effects teams add a lot of tiny dents, gashes, worn spots and repair bits on top of all the made-up spaceships and city scapes. He wante them to look worn, which helps them look real. He had his artists add minute details to enliven the smooth walls, b ecause in real life almost no walls are perfectly smooth. He instructed the model makers to add bits that were shaped as plumbing pipes, hatch handles, rivets, repainted panels, and additional gear — all the interruptions that normally deface building walls over time. These surface irregularities are so normal we don’t see them, but these disruptions unconsciously signal to us that the object is real. In the model shops of Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) these bits often came from used model kits of trains, tanks and planes, transplanted and re-imagined. Lucas came to call this layer of grub “grebblies.” Adding more grebblies became the defacto procedure for creating “realistic” new ships and cities in most science movies since.

An artist friend who works at ILM today in the digital department says “worbble” is now used for a similar, parallel digital procedure. Worbble is the term for taking the edge off perfect surfaces. You might say “The reflection off the windows it too flat and perfect, let’s add some worbble to break them up.” You might add worbble to a reflective car surface. He says “If it’s too perfect it screams FAKE. So adding worbble or even ‘orange peel’ texture to the paint adds a layer of human touch to the surface and the way light hits it.”

Worbble is sort of a kind of broad-scale greeble, but I find worbble hard to say, especially for non-Americans. Worbble also feels worrisome, as if worbble is lots of worry. So I nomimate “wubble” to cover greebles and worbble.

Wubble is close to wobble, a kind of imperfection and it is close to bubble, which may be too childlike, but it does capture the playful character of this imperfection. Wubble also sounds like trouble, for better or worse. And it rhymes with stubble, which is imperfection.

I can definitely imagine saying, “This building needs more wubble.” “I like the wubble in the skin.” Or “That dialog by the robot needs more wubble.”


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