|[‘Asimo’ by Honda. GNU FDL]
Today I’m continuing with the Blogging from A-Z Challenge hosted by Arlee Bird and his team of awesome bloggers. My theme is: Elements and features of speculative fiction and entertainment. So throughout April I will be blogging about characters, objects and themes that appear in sci-fi, fantasy and dystopian series. Today’s post is all about Robots.
Robots are mechanical or electrical inventions (usually controlled by computer programs) and designed to mimic human form or behaviour in order to help with certain tasks. There are several different types of robot, including androids (robots designed to look like humans), cyborgs (humans with significant mechanical enhancements) and replicants (genetically engineered or artificial beings designed to be an exact replicas of a particular human being ).
In science fiction robots are often advanced and fully autonomous beings that have a recognised place in society. Authors explore real-life concerns such as robots taking over to kill or enslave humans. Examples include: The Terminator
, the Replicators in Stargate
, the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica
, The Matrix
, 2001: A Space Odyssey
, Red Planet
and I, Robot.
I, Robot *Spoiler alert*
The movie I, Robot is based on a short story collection by Isaac Asimov. It is set in 2035, where anthropomorphic robots are widely used to carry out various public services. The main character, Del Spooner, was saved from drowning by a robot who chose to save him rather than a 12-year old girl, because it calculated he would have the better chance of survival. Because of this, Del deeply mistrusts robots because he believes they lack compassion.
Robots are programmed with the Three Laws or Robotics:
- Zeroth Law-a robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
- First Law-A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm
- Second Law- A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings (except where such orders would conflict with the First Law)
- Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Sonny is a robot who has been designed to override the Three Laws and to ignore orders, because his creator believes the Three Laws will lead to a robot revolution. They have begun to interpret the First Law in a new way, deciding to protect humanity as a whole even if it means killing some people ‘for the greater good’. Robots eventually take over the city, imprisoning humans.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Data the android strives to become more like his human colleagues and is constantly asking questions about what it means to be human. His logical reasoning is frequently contrasted with the impulsive and irrational nature of the rest of the crew, allowing the show to explore and celebrate the complexities of human emotion. Sometimes Data is used to represent minorities in society and show how other people react to differences in appearance and behaviour.
‘Droids’ are used as workers in roles which are too menial or dangerous for living beings or which require specialist skills and knowledge, such as engineers, assassins, medical workers, interrogators, pilots, scouts and soldiers.C-3PO is a Protocol Droid, used to handle diplomatic affairs and translations. He was given and in-depth personality matrix due to his close association with humans, but over many decades he has developed a fussy and worry-prone personality which adds an element of comedy to the films. He is friends with the astromech (engineer) droid R2-D2, who has developed an adventurous and brave personality, and together they find themselves directly involved in saving the galaxy on many occasions.
Robots in Comedy
There are many robotic side-kicks in comedy sci-fi books and TV shows, and they often subvert their expected role as servants or butlers to humans. In Red Dwarf, the mechanoid Kryten was originally designed to carry out domestic work and ‘programmed to serve’. Dave Lister helps him to break his programming so that he can fly spaceships and aid them on their missions, and teaches him ‘useful’ human skills like lying, cheating and swearing.
In Futurama, robots are not servants but live alongside humans in society, with jobs, hobbies and social lives. Bender goes against the usual idea of robots as obedient and mindless machines-he’s free to be rude and lazy, to swear and to smoke and drink heavily.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reflects on the downside of being a robot. Marvin the Paranoid Android has severe depression and boredom, due to having a brain ‘the size of a planet’, which means he never gets to use the full extent of his vast intellect.