Are robots just robots? Or are they something more?
Today, we’re building all kinds of drones and robots with the help of emerging technology trends. But technology has never been able to move as quickly as our imagination; even before we actually got to building tangible robots, we imagined what it would be like being around them.
We first mentioned robots in written fiction all the way back in the mid-1800s before they reached the screen around the 1920s. While all sci-fi works have their charm, some of these robots have made their impact on the cultural scene of their era.
With hopes that the rise of mechanical beings doesn’t bring about humanity’s end, we take a look at the most influential robots that make us question what it means to be “alive” from the screen and ponder whether it would be possible to build them in real life.
Number Six from Battlestar Galactica
You’re probably familiar with Sophia, a humanoid robot developed by Hanson Robotics that made headlines as being the first-ever robot citizen in the world. While Sophia was as close as we could get to a humanoid robot, Battlestar Galactica’s humanoid cylons were eerily identical to humans in appearance and even biology in the series’ dystopia.
Number Six, however, is the most memorable cylon due to her critical role in the unraveling of the storyline and long screentime. In Battlestar Galactica, humanoid cylons have millions of clones, or templates, and they all share the same personality and traits. When one dies, its memories transfer to others much like a massive cloud network that can be stored, re-programmed, and even interfaced with computers.
WALL-E from WALL-E
The lovable WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) is a trash compactor robot in a waste-covered Earth in the future. The only robot of his type that’s still functioning on Earth, WALL-E is cleaning up the empty planet all on his own while the remaining humans continue their existence in a space colony. While we have built similar robots to explore the moon and Mars, we’re some time away from being caught up in a similar dystopian setting where we’d need rovers like WALL-E, at least for now.
Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still
If you’ve seen the 1951 movie The Day the Earth Stood Still, possibly the most iconic sci-fi movie in the history of the genre, you’d be familiar with the equally iconic humanoid robot Gort, also known for its acronym Genetically Organized Robotic Technology after the movie’s 2008 remake.
The Day the Earth Stood Still tells the story of an alien named Klaatu who visit Earth as an ambassador from another planet, and his giant robot guard, Gort. In addition to its massive build, Gort also features a Cyclops-like laser beam that it shoots from its “eye”. Holding great power, Klaatu describes Gort as interstellar police who’s responsible for preserving the peace.
Let alone finding an alien police robot with a laser, we haven’t been lucky in our search for life outside of our own planet with the technologies we possess — so far.
HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey
Artificial intelligence is an emerging trend that has been making headlines in the last few decades. According to MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab A.I. enables “computers and machines to mimic the perception, learning, problem-solving, and decision-making capabilities of the human mind.” With the use of A.I., robotics and machine learning can turn out to be greatly beneficial for humans, or, according to some theories, disastrous.
HAL, a human-like computer on the Discovery One spaceship in the 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Symbolizing humanity’s long-held concerns regarding technological advancements and, of course, artificial intelligence, HAL is a power-mad intelligent being. Not just a mere A.I. helper, HAL maintains all mechanical and life support systems in the spaceship.
While it took some time, it’s safe to say we’ve managed to build and program functioning artificial intelligence systems. However, when, or if, advanced A.I. would be mainstream is still unbeknownst to us.
T-800 from The Terminator
1984’s The Terminator is possibly responsible for an entire generation’s fear of robots and A.I. The movie, which has led to a franchise including numerous sequels and tv shows, paints a vivid future where humans are oppressed by A.I.-powered machines and an evil computer system Skynet. After hacking United States’ systems and starting a nuclear war, the machines are basically trying to eradicate humans.
T-800, also known as a Cyberdyne Systems Model 101, is an advanced humanoid robot sent to 1984 from the same dystopian future to kill John Connor, the future savior of mankind, before he was even born. But in the second film of the series Terminator 2: Judgment Day, he becomes the main protagonist and helps save John Connor from other robots. Boasting motion and face detection, zoom, and a nuclear power cell instead of a heart, the T-800 model can “live” for 120 years. Proving that some robots can be helpful and can actually save lives, T-800 is an iconic figure in cinematic history.
Bender from Futurama
If you’re a fellow sci-fi enthusiast, you’ve dreamed of having a robot sidekick at least once in your life. Futurama’s Bender is that robot. Being series protagonist Fry’s best friend, alcohol-powered Bender is famous for his hilarious lines. In addition to his personality traits, his torso can be used as a popcorn maker, beer dispenser, oven, safe, and storage, among many other things. He also has camera eyes and can use his head as a tape recorder.
Building a robot that has half the features as Bender is a near-impossible mission, and it doesn’t seem like we’ll be able to build one soon enough. Even though Bender does not resemble a human, he has all the characteristics of one.
R2-D2 from Star Wars
Undoubtedly the most popular robot in the history of movies, R2-D2, or Second Generation Robotic Droid Series-2, is a loyal little droid with a critical role in the storyline. Serving many important figures ranging from Anakin Skywalker and Obi-wan Kenobi to Luke Skywalker, Artoo is an astromech droid with many handy tools including an electric pike, an ascension cable, and a data probe. R2-D2 can hack into computer systems, screen hologram projections, and repair hyperdrives.
We have covered many service robots throughout the years. And even though we’re not fully ready to build an autonomous and agile droid such as R2, out of the robots on this list, he would most likely be the easiest to build.
Roy Batty from Blade Runner
One of the replicants from the same name novel, Roy Batty shot to fame after Rutger Hauer’s impeccable performance in 1982’s Blade Runner. Originally a replicant, a bioengineered humanoid, Roy has superhuman abilities and a strong will to “live”, but since he is not a “real human” he only has a four-year lifespan. He is portrayed as the main antagonist in the movie as the leader of a rogue replicant group that demands a longer lifespan.
His character in the movie makes the viewer question just what makes us human, and where the thin line stands between a human’s and machine’s essence. Aside from his famed “Tears in rain” monologue, he has also stated that he’s not a mere machine but an independent and intelligent being (almost as much as a human) with the quote “We’re no computers, Sebastian. We’re physical.”
And much like the previous advanced humanoid robots in this series, we have a long way to go before we’re able to build a humanoid robot using human DNA.
Daleks from Doctor Who
One of the main foes of Time Lords, and of course, The Doctor, Daleks were first introduced in the long-running series Doctor Who back in 1963 and have since become an iconic sight for sci-fi fans. Initially a race of mutant aliens, Daleks’ exterior is actually a tank-like armor, making them cyborgs rather than robots. With a desire to destroy, or EX-TER-MI-NATE, anything that comes their way which is not a Dalek, the aliens bring to mind the Nazis. According to the Tenth Doctor in the series, the Daleks are encased in their cold metal shell right after their birth, and thus, are unable to feel anything.
Even though the Daleks are not completely integrated with their metal shell, they’re supported by and armed with it. Made of fictional alloys Dalekanium and polycarbide, the protective shell works like a tank-like armor. With emerging military technologies, we’re currently working to develop war suits like those of Iron-Man. Hopefully, we won’t take things as far as the Daleks.
Dolores from Westworld
Westworld’s Dolores is the protagonist of the series mainly owing to her being the first and oldest host. What’s a host? For those who haven’t seen the series, a host is an artificially created intelligence, a human or an animal. These hosts are programmed to play along their own scenarios written out for them for the purpose of entertaining guests. In Westworld, guests are allowed to do whatever they please to hosts, who get their memories wiped after every performance. And, as you might have guessed, things get icky.
Dolores, initially a rancher girl in the Westworld, however, gains consciousness and becomes self-aware. Even though she’s clever and can blend in as a human, she’s still an artificial being who lacks human emotions, making her an alarming presence for her creators.
Most of the robots we watch on the screen, even those with emotional intelligence, are mainly perceived as man-made and non-human. However, the characters filmmakers assign to them can help change our perspective on the idea of consciousness and inevitably make us question what makes us human anyway.