Transformers got you in the mood for more robots?
Transformers: Age of Extinction
had the biggest opening of the year so far. We geeks always have to remind ourselves that some people haven’t already seen/read/played everything there is.
Think about it: there are kids where this will be their first ever encounter with robots.
We owe it to them, and to geekery, to point out some of the other robots in visual media.
First, a little bit of vocabulary (because that’s always fun, right?): ;)
Technically, and the way we usually use the term in this blog, a robot is an artificial something that performs work.
This is how we define it for our On the Robot Beat stories:
A robot is something created by humans (directly or indirectly) that performs tasks (autonomously or not) done by humans (or, more broadly, by other animals…a robot dog, for example, would perform work done by living dogs, including providing companionship).
The word may conjure up an image of a mechanical man, perhaps clunky and made of metal. The way we use the term at The Measured Circle, it would include software performing human tasks, and non-anthropomorphic devices like an answering machine or a calculator.
On the Robot Beat presents news about our creations that are, even in small ways, replacing us.
However, you probably don’t want to go from Transformers to, oh, an electric toothbrush.
For this post, we’ll use it to mean an inorganic artificially created life form.
That’s how many geeks use it. A clone is not a robot, even if it was created to do work, because it is organic.
Now, there are robots (in the above definition) designed to resemble human beings…sometimes, they do it so well that you wouldn’t know. Those are called androids, from the Greek meaning something like “man-like”.
An android is a robot, but a robot isn’t necessarily an android, in the same way that a cat is an animal, but an animal isn’t necessarily a cat.
Two other terms sometimes get thrown into this category are cyborg and bionic.
A cyborg (cybernetic organism) is a human being (or, I suppose, an animal) which has been made partly mechanical.
Bionic (bio ((life)) and “onic” from electronic) is an adjective. Something can be bionic (like a bionic arm), but there isn’t a being which is a “bionic” (although it wouldn’t surprise me if some story used it that way).
A cyborg might have a bionic leg.
As in many things in geekdom, this can get hard to pin down…we’re so imaginative! ;) For example, if a robot has an organic skin (and that happens with the T-800 series from Terminator…so they can better infiltrate human groups), does that make it a cyborg?
I would say no: the artificial has been augmented with the organic, rather than the other way around.
For this post, we’re going to stick with robots (including androids) although some organic enhancements might sneak in here.
That does leave out Doctor Who’s Cybermen and Daleks. Both of them may look like machines, but the former are clearly cyborgs and the latter are more like a human in a suit of armor (although it’s much more complex than that).
Here we go!
Robby the Robot
First appearance: 1956, Forbidden Planet
Robby was an amazing part of an incredible movie. This is what many of us think of when we think of a robot. Robby “lived” to serve humans, and was physically awkward. This mechanism spoke (and in nearly 200 languages, along with their dialects and sub-tongues) and was artificially intelligent. The character was so successful (including the suit) that Robby went on to appear in other movies and to guest star on TV shows.
First literary appearance: 1907, Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Featured in Return To Oz, 1985
The land of Oz in the original books is surprisingly technological, with gramophones, a wireless pocket telephone invented by the Wizard, and a robot.
There was actually more than one robot in the series, but Tik-Tok became a main character and an important person in the Land of Oz. Tik-Tok had to be wound up to operate, but was able to think, speak, and act.
The Robot (B9) from Lost in Space
First appearance: 1965
“Danger!” Will Robinson was a geeky kid in a pioneer space family. While he was arguably friends with Dr. Smith, his real friend was artificial: the robot. Like Robby the Robot, Lost in Space’s worker was designed by Robert Kinoshita. However, “Robot” (it was often used as a name) was a lot more “human” in emotional affect.
Rhoda (AF 709)
First appearance: 1964, My Living Doll
Certainly not as well known as some of the others on this list, Rhoda was an experimental robot in the shape of…well, Julie Newmar. This was what I call a “mermaid out of water” story…like a “fish out of water”, but with a fantasy/science fiction element (like Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, or My Favorite Martian). It’s a typical sitcom in some ways, but Newmar brought special elements to it…for example, Rhoda enters a beauty pageant, but Newmar takes it to the next level during the talent portion, by (actually) playing piano well. The series was sexy (for one thing, Rhoda was controlled in part by pushing buttons disguised as beauty marks) and funny. Rhoda’s perceptions of the world showed an interesting insight into how an artificial intelligence might view the world. Some clips are also available on YouTube (including the piano clip).
K-9 (Doctor Who)
First appearance: 1977, The Invisible Enemy (Doctor Who)
Not every biomorphic robot is shaped like a human being. Tom Baker’s 4th Doctor introduced us to this robot dog. Certainly, some might feel that K-9 is an upgrade from a biological dog: I mean, the laser weapon in the nose comes in handy, and although your dog may think she knows everything (and you cat knows he does), K-9 had a wealth of information. The character was popular enough to appear with other doctors, and in spin-off series. For another robot dog, see Woody Allen’s Sleeper, and for a dog-like robot, see Muffitt II, a robot “daggitt” from the original Battlestar Galactica series.
First appearance: 1927 (Metropolis)
This silent movie is remarkably solid science fiction, and clearly was greatly influential. [SPOILER ALERT] Maria is a decidedly female robot, and is turned into an android to take the place of a human in a plot of manipulation. [END SPOILER]
We could keep going…and going…and going…
Here’s are some more to consider (and this just the tip of the cybernetic iceberg):
- Data (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
- Number (Johnny) 5 (Short Circuit)
- Huey, Dewey, and Louie (Silent Running)
- Tobor the Great
- Gort (The Day the Earth Stood Still)
- R2-D2 and C3PO (Star Wars)
- Bubo (a robot owl from The Clash of the Titans)
- The Scudders (Red Dwarf)
- Bender (Futurama)
- Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot and others (Mystery Science Theater 3000)
- Yo-Yo (Holmes and Yo-Yo)
- Hymie (Get Smart)
- Marvin (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)
- Astro Boy
- Dorian (Almost Human)
- The Fembots (Austin Powers…and Dr. Goldfoot)
- Vicki (Small Wonder)
That should get you started. :)
Feel free to suggest other robots by commenting on this post.
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