There have been many heralded advances in robotics over the last century, and they have all been wildly disappointing ...
Just The Facts
- There are several main types of robots in the sci-fi universe: androids, cyborgs, controller- bots, robo-suits, military robots and pseudo-bots.
- While C-3PO could be loosely considered an 'droid, (originally shorthand for android) R2D2, and most of the other robots in the Star Wars galaxy are not androids, as they possess no human-like characteristics.
- George Lucas is an idiot.
Cracked on Robots
Robots in real life are pretty much only useful for building cars or assisting the elderly. Real robots hardly ever come to life and attack people. Robots in movies, however, have shown us the true potential of our hardwired friends.
Androids are probably the most common type of robot seen in cinema. An android is a robot with sentient technology created to look and act human. Or sometimes, like Jude Law. Androids are often placed in the difficult situation of trying to ascertain what constitutes humanity, in a Pinnochio-esque effort to somehow become real. When this happens they often encounter the "Android's Conundrum," which is the problem of developing feelings without being able to cry, or maybe just something made up from this Shins song.
Androids usually have superhuman strength because, well, why not? Although they are supposed to resemble humans, androids are typically given a non-human trait to make them distinguishable from their human counterparts, which is useful when they inevitably develop a sense of identity and need to be "retired."
Non-human trait: being creepy as fuck
Because of their resemblance to humans, androids are often stuck with the primary directive of providing "services" to humans which would normally be carried out by other humans, if the first humans in question weren't so unappealing. See Metropolis, AI, Bladerunner, The Stepford Wives (but only the parts where they were supposed to be androids and not cyborgs, if you can even tell when that is.) Also see Aliens 1-3 and Alien: Resurrection, but only because Winona Ryder is hot. And to further your knowledge of all things 'droid and consensual, read the article 5 Hot Lady Bots You Probably Shouldn't Have Sex With.
Winona-Bot? Totally not on the list.
Androids are also used to infiltrate human societies to gather information, impersonate people, and kill snarky future leaders of resistance movements, although they are occasionally reprogrammed to aid humans, and develop close bonds before sacrificing their artificial lives in an orgy of molten, crushing metal and/or aliens.
See Terminator, T2, T3, T-Salvation, T-the-Sarah-Connor-Chronicles, Wallace and Gromit in A Close Shave, and Bicentennial Man, but only if you really hate yourself. For more information on real-life androids, check out the Cracked article The 7 Creepiest Real Life Robots.
Cyborgs are humans who have been implanted with some sort of cybernetic technology, typically as the marriage of an industrial/military accident and a wacky, untested-experimentally inclined surgeon. Usually, this enables them to perform faster or stronger than normal humans. Sometimes, it allows them to run in slow motion and fight Bigfoot.
Cyobrgs are usually given advanced, difficult duties, like saving Detroit from crime (never gonna happen) and making Jean-Claude Van Damme's acting seem legitimate (even less likely.)
Now I have to kill the mayor too?
Cyborgs inevitably encounter difficulties when flashbacks of their past whole-human lives begin interfering with their programming. These difficulties are usually surmounted by the inherent danger of a loved one/partner/little kid/ entire civilization. For some serious cyborg-ing, see Robocop 1 and 2 but definitely not 3, The Bionic Woman, Cyborg, American Cyborg, The Six Million Dollar Man, Universal Soldier, Soldier, other un-creative combinations of the words "cyborg" and "soldier."
Controller-bots are the supercomputer robots put in charge of massive amounts of information, like the entire security of a country, or all the mechanical functions of a spaceship, or the damned pod bay doors. Controller-bots are usually shut down when they inevitably go batshit-insane, or we don't happen to like the answers their vastly superior intellect and reasoning provide. For a list of reasonable requests to make when the Controller-Bots inevitably run the world, see the article 9 Simple Requests For Our Robot Overlords.
Epitome of British TV special effects
If you're wondering how you could possibly tell if the robot deciding if your life functions constitute a necessary use of resources is evil, the first thing to look for is A GIANT EVIL RED EYE.
One of these things is pretty much exactly like the others.
The Controller-Bot can usually only be stopped by destroying its power source, which is conveniently located in the robot's control room, so that it can attempt to thwart you by swinging its glowing red eye around on whatever spindly mechanism it is attached to and also by using persuasive reasoning. And so that the Controller-Bot can deliver one final, humanizing soliloquy before the life ebbs from its now-seemingly-innocent visage.
For further clues see 2001: A Space Odyssey, EagleEye, Wall-E, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Red Dwarf. Actually, don't see any of those except for Red Dwarf. Smeggin' hilarious. For a rundown of more robots who don't actually accomplish what they are supposed to, see the Cracked article 8 Classic Movie Robots That Actually Suck at Their Job.
Robo-suits, known by geeks worldwide as "Mecha," are the giant robots usually tasked with saving humanity from imminent alien/communist/other giant robot attack. Sometimes animal-themed, and usually piloted by reckless, misunderstood teenagers, the robots don't have autonomy unless their forces happen to combine in a kickass, defender of the universe way, or the much lamer car version that your grandma got you for Christmas because she thought they were Transformers.
Lions for hands or station wagons? Thanks Grandma.
See Robotech/Battletech, Gundam, Voltron, Shogun Warriors. Or basically any Japanese cartoon that doesn't involve tentacles and schoolgirls. And to see how Japan is inching ever closer to needing giant robot defenders to protect them from their own creations, read about the 20 Japanese Robots Probably Intent on Murdering You.
Military and industrial robots are the robots created to do the dirty work, whether it's cleaning up thousands of years of wasteful excess or patrolling dead cities in search of wandering flesh popsicles to provide thermal energy to feed the Source.
One of these guys can blow up tanks. The other has the power to crush humanity.
Robots that fall into this category are usually trying to enslave humanity, either because they see humans as inferior and weak, or they need a viable power source, or they're just sick of our shit. They don't see any need to disguise themselves to fit in, they just want to destroy us. Standing in their way are the other robots, who have somehow gained an affinity for weak-minded humans and have decided that we as a race are somehow worth saving. See Wall-E, Short Circuit 1 and 2, The Matrix trilogy, I-Robot, Battlestar Galactica, The Iron Giant, The Black Hole and Transformers.
An often mis-categorized subset of robot is the Pseudo-Bot. These are entities that have some of the characteristics of the above categories, but possess intrinsic qualities which disqualify them from genuine robot status.
The EVA units from Neon Genesis: Evangelion are a good example. To the uninitiated viewer, they look like the standard Japanese mechs, albeit somewhat more lanky and organic. They are piloted by the requisite nubile youngsters and Wikipedia even claims they are "cyborgs," however the truth is much more depressing and convoluted. The EVAs are actually "grown" from genetic material taken from "Adam," who was supposed to restart life on earth after God wiped out the existing human population with his "Angels." Not content with the creepiness level there, one of the EVAs also contains the trapped soul of the pilot's mother. The "pilot," meanwhile, is encased in an embryonic-type fluid which allows him to breathe and supposedly control the EVA, which works for a few seconds until the thing goes into berserker mode and kicks angel ass without any input from him.
Uh, we gave it teeth, right?
The EVAs, it's later revealed, are encased in robotic-looking armor in an attempt to control them, which is probably what you want to do with your 200 foot high genetically engineered killing monster gone wrong. So, cyborg, no. Affront to God? Definitely. I mean, come on Japan, you could have just said they were aliens or something.
THE WEEKLY TOPICS PAGE CONTEST!
This is the winning entry of our weekly Topics Page Contest. Go here to find out how to turn a dozen sentences and a photoshop into internet fame, and cold hard cash (70% harder than cash at leading websites).