Robots, Androids and Cyborgs

So in listening to one of my weekly podcasts, On The Tropes, the boys (and newly added gal) had a discussion centered on robots in fiction. I had actually been meaning to write a little something about this topic for some time, and this week’s episode rekindled some thoughts. But before we start, let’s talk a little about robots because, as we all know, absorbing this sort of stuff is what makes for being the life of a party.

A robot – derived from the Czech word robota, meaning “drudgery” or “labor” – is generally considered to be a non-sentient, manufactured body that is guided by artificial intelligence, though in more modern use a robot could just be A.I., taking the form of a digital program. Robots do simply as they are programed to do; they follow directives, do not make judgement calls, and unless programmed to respond, are generally impervious to stimuli. This is nothing you don’t already know, so let’s compare them to androids and cyborgs.

An android is more akin to “synthetic organism,” that is, manufactured (as opposed to organically born, grown or otherwise produced), and is shaped in the likeness of humanity. Usually. Often androids are equipped with self-aware artificial intelligence, but like robots, they tend to follow strict guidelines and are not particularly known for breaking the rules – unless breaking the rules is what they were meant to do. They often lifelike, and serve often as personal assistants, interpreters, caretakers or any other white-collar job that might be considered too low or detail-oriented for a human to do.

Or as terrifying practice for aspiring Japanese dental students.

Actually, Hanako is still technically a robot, as she lacks A.I., but considering she was originally developed by a Japanese sex-toy company, they’re really not that far off from constructing something that looks and feels convincingly real. All that’s missing is that precious sentience.

Then there are cyborgs, which can most easily be described as something Рusually a human but not always Рthat started out as a normal, living creature, and was later augmented by some means using cybernetics, which is a fun word for the equation METAL + FLESH and BRAIN. Cyborgs can be arguably more varied than androids, as replacing any body part Рwhether it be a limb or an eye Рpretty much satisfies the criteria. Naturally in fiction, this means that the newly added robotic components  not only re-enable someone who might have suffered an injury, but can also further augment the abilities of someone to perform more effectively. Usually in combat. Metal fists hurt more than bony ones, and even extra arms can come in handy.

Puns like this are why everyone in my neighborhood knows me by name.

This man, Neil Harbisson, was born colorblind. Now thanks to this artificial eye hooked up to his brain, he can “hear” colors. This has proved immensely helpful in his art.

As for my favorite one’s in fiction? I’ll toss you a short list.

There’s the Iron Giant, which I’m unsure exactly whether is a sentient robot or just a super advanced alien thing, but he’s pretty awesome all the same. For the cyborg category, well, instead of making yet another Evangelion reference, I’ll point you towards Ghost in the Shell, another anime (full length feature film) that features, among other things, full-body cyborgs who’s only remaining human feature is their brain. And, for the androids, we have Kryten, from the BBC’s Red Dwarf. Appearing on the 7th episode, they call him a mechanoid, but as far as I’m concerned we’re splitting hairs. He’s totally an android.

Complete with ‘tude, glitches, and no shortage of logic-based helpfulness.

Are there any favorites of yours that fall in these categories? Are there any other categories you think I missed, or would prefer to have covered? Let me know!

Happy writing, dear readers!


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