Sunday, June 10, 2012

Android and Robots and Cyborgs, Oh My!

Are robots eventually going to kill us all? Most science fiction movies and television series would lead us to believe this. Are all robots inherently evil?

The most recent movie to look at the interaction between humans and robots is Prometheus, a group of explorers travel to a distant planet in search of knowledge and answers to life's questions. They bring along an android David, who acts as caretaker while the crew of the Prometheus is in a cryogenic sleep. He studies languages to assist the team of scientist and in his spare time, bleaches his hair to look more like Peter O'Toole's T.E. Lawrence from Lawrence of Arabia. He assists the team on the ground as they search long-forgotten ruins but he also follows the orders of his creater Peter Weyland. Doing so, he puts some of the scientists in harms way. He shows no real malevolence mostly because he has no emotions, but his actions lead to death and despair. Looking back at movies and tv you can see a lot of robots, cyborgs and androids who share his cold and calculating nature.

There have been robots throughout films and movies but the one who was probably the biggest threat to man was Ash from Alien, Like David in Prometheus, Ash was on the crew of the Nostromo assisting the mining crew on an interstellar mission investigating an unknown signal in deep space. After coming into contact with alien life Ash attacks the crew while carrying out orders sent down from the company the crew is employed by. The crew of the Nostromo had no idea they had an android on the crew and the realization was one of the biggest twists in film history to that point. The android was carrying out orders to retrieve the alien organism but that put humans at risk, and it was willing to harm human life to fulfill it's objectives. Ash and David are a lot alike, thanks to Weyland Industries.

David in Prometheus mentions that every child wants to kill it's parents. Is that the reason why most robots want to kill their makers? That's the theme of Battlestar Galactica. Once the race of robots, cylons gained true artificial intelligence and became self-aware they were at war with the humans who created them. They went so far to destroy humans that hey created cybernetic organisms that resembled humans, all the way down to the cellular level. Being able to infiltrate human society they were able to launch a simultaneous attack wiping out most of the human race. The same applies to the machines in Terminator and The Matrix who decide to eliminate and subjugate humans. The Daleks fight the Time Lords in Doctor Who to eliminate all sentient life in the universe because of life's flaws and impurities.

In Blade Runner humans fear the cyborgs they created in their image, replicants, that were forced off-world to do the jobs humans wouldn't have to. They hunt down replicants who return to Earth because they're stronger and can blend in with the population. The fear of an other is same fear the crew of the Nostromo felt in Alien, the same inherent fear in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where the most terrifying monster we could face looks exactly like us. That fear is realized in Battlestar Galactica, where there are multiple copies of cylon models who go unnoticed, some are sleepers who do not even know they are robots. It's deep space McCarthyism when you can't trust that the person next to you is actually human, who can you trust.

Now, not all robots are bad news. Data from Star Trek Next Generation became a senior officer on the starship Enterprise and in Star Trek: Nemesis he was Lieutenant Commander, one rank below the First Officer Command Riker. Some robots maintain objectivity and are subservient to humans. Wall-e spends his time on Earth organizing the Earth's garbage long after humans have fled to the stars, he even comes to humanity's defense when the AI on the ship ferrying humans through space goes rogue and attempts to kill the captain. Robot from Lost In Space protects Will Robinson from danger, Johnny 5 protects humans in Short Circuit and even one of the T-800 robots comes back through time to protect John Connor from other cybernetic Terminators. Then you have Steve Austin, the six-million dollar man, who is critically injured and rebuilt using cybernetics. So they're not all bad.

So what do you think, while robots live with us in harmony or will they eventually rise up and enslave or obliterate us?

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