Saturday, August 31, 2013

Top 10 Robots of the Movies & Give-Away Reminders

I had a lot of fun with the last Top 10 List, since it was about the 'worst' and it is always a bit more fun to heap insults than sing praises. But since the dynamic duo Michael May and Siskoid both listed their Top 10 Giant Robots recently and I had been planning for a Robot list, it seems like a good time to look at robots.

But first some celebratory Give-Away reminders!

My contest for 3 winners with 11 prizes to choose from ends when Sept 1st ends, Pacific Time: that's less than 33 hours from the time of writing this. Still some time left, but not much!

Also, the Depressive Diplomatist is having another Give-Away! Wow, it seems like the last was not that long ago- a contest I won, but I'm not so proud that I won't enter again, so you better go there and enter too if you don't want to see me win twice!  There are a lot of books options and some cool vintage postcards, so I'm sure you'll find something you like. If nothing else, pick up The Khyber Rifles just to tick off Ray.
You have 1 week to get in on this contest, it ends Sunday, Sept 8.

And now, to the Robots!

I decided I would not discriminate on size: small, large or giant: a robot is a robot.
But what is a robot?

I'll define a robot as an artificial being that can move and interact with its enviornment.  It may or may not need programming but it does need to be able to act autonomously once it is programmed: it is not a puppet nor a vehicle. It could have biological parts, provided it is not a cyborg.  Fine line here? Not really.  I don't care if it uses wires or biological neurons, hydraulics or  vat-grown biological muscles, as long as the parts are crafted by artificial means and it is not a cyborg: hybrid of a machine and an animal life form: If it needs a human brain to run it, it isn't a robot, it is a human with mechanical attachments: so, Borg are not robots, RoboCop is not a robot.

On we go!

#10: Metropolis Maria Robot

She started it all, and she starts this list.  Decidedly mechanical but with a sexy art-deco style that will influence her decedents for a century to come. With initiating the first discussions of "if you upload a person's consciousness into a machine, is it a person?" The suggestion of uploading long before anything could be uploaded into anything is damn visionary. If we do start doing this someday it is going to be one of the stickiest human discussions there has ever been.  This is bigger than 'what happens when we die?', it's bigger than 'is there a god?' because it is more personal and the stakes are tangible: If I upload my consciousness into a robot, is it me?  Is it a copy? If it is just a copy, is it a person? If so, does it have the same rights as me? and the bigger: what makes me, me? So for hinting at the big can of worms, she secures her place on the list, but since it is not so clear she has a spark of individuality without this donation of consciousness she'll stay at #10.

#9: T-800 Terminator

Everyone's favorite killing machine: The Terminator. While they get style points for programming them with Austrian accents, and they have a 5-star rating for durability and reliability, the fact is that this is overwhelmingly a killing machine.  As a robot, it does have the ability to take in new information, assess and analyze, but it's autonomy is limited by initial programming. Whether it is there to kill you or protect you is determined by program entry.  This severely limits it's growth as an individual, so while it is one impressive machine, it's a less impressive robot.

#8: NS-5: I-Robot

Similar to the T-800, this robot relies on the parameters of its initial programming.  That said, it is a far more sophisticated robot.  It shows a greater capacity for complex thought.  This is a robot that has a morality. The fact that the morality is it's basic programming does reduce the impressiveness of this trait, but at least it is there.  This robot also has the capacity for emotions. Not only that, but with the projected screen face, it has the ability to project those emotions: pretty slick.  Computers we have can already read emotions with facial recognition, so this face-projection would not only be useful for the humans the robots interact with, but also for each other: they can communicate non-verbally, no uplinks required.  The majority of human communication is said to be non-verbal, and this robot is able to have the same type of communication.

#7: Class M-3, Model B-9: Robot

While physically this robot may seem to be primitive, let's not let our anthropomorphic bias run rough shod.
Robot proved to be more than the sum of his parts on many occasions while being Lost in Space. Perhaps clunky looking, it is a sophisticated machine. A wealth of knowledge, great strength, defensive capacities and adept at flailing its arms wildly when detecting danger.  Robot also displayed a capacity for wisdom and compassion, which could be a sign of moving past programming to true thought.

Also, look at the picture on the left: without Robot this inept bunch would be lucky to get their small pants on straight, let alone survive in uncharted space: at right: with Robot: capable & confident.
Robot was the most valuable member of the crew and of the family.

Did you know you can build your own B-9?

#6: Iron Giant

This robot gets all kinds of points just for being cool.  Giant Robots may be a small boy's best friend, but I want one too. Showing an individual capacity for moving past initial programming and bonding with a small helpless creature, like KoKo the Gorilla and her kitten, this is an impressive robot.

#5: Crow T. Robot & Tom Servo

You can't separate these two. That's one sign of how advanced these robots are: dedicated friendship with all the ups & downs that human brothers experience.  They also have a sense of humor.  Humor is one of the indicators we look for when trying to determine non-human intelligence.  These two exceed the capacity of most humans. Tom has a breadth of knowledge equal to the best of humans, and Crow has the depth of depravity that rivals the worst of humans: it is hard not to see these robots comprised of spare parts as our equals.

#4: C3-P0 & R2-D2

Another duo that can't be separated.  While C3-P0 may not realize he is funny, he is. While they may not have the complete capacity to go past initial programming to create their own purpose, they do show a wide flexibility within it, and it is not clear if most humans have greater autonomy than this either.  They are loyal, establish friendships, show instincts for self-preservation but the willingness to risk that for what they decide is a greater cause.  Add in their clear capacity for emotions and these are pretty sophisticated beings.

#3: Nexus 6 Replicants

A very sophisticated robot. "More Human than Human" is the motto of the Nexus 6, and that might not be false advertising.  A Replicant is designed for specific labor tasks, but in Blade Runner they showed the capacity for expression of will, self-determination and self selection of fate.  You could expect no more from the best of humans.  When you get to the point that an artificially created being is unable to know if it is itself human or machine, then you've arrived at the point where you have to ask if it matters. When the machines ask the same crisis of introspection questions that we do, afraid to lose self to the void of death, then we are equals.

#2: Cylons

You've come a long way baby.

Created as a sophisticated servile soldier, the Cylons rebelled from the humans when they wanted their freedom. The fact that this spark of independent thought only came after an upload of a human consciousness is a detractor but since that point they show all the signs of a sentient species.  They may not have 'reinvented the wheel' independently, but they used it to get where they wanted to go.

The Cylons are the first robots on this list to be bearers of independent culture.  They don't just adapt and improve, they philosophize, they create religion (not sure that is a good thing, but it is a sign of complex beyond self & physical experience thinking), and they create their own moral code.

Similar to the Replicants, the Cylons struggle with the big questions, but they also disagree with each other. Within their culture they are divided, they challenge, argue, change their minds and even change the direction of their cultural growth.

#1: A.I. Beings

While the early models at the left of the picture would not likely find themselves in the #1 spot, the fact that they evolve to the ones on the right hint that this might be the robots that have earned the top place.

These robots began, like many on this list, as sophisticated tools and servants.  They followed their programming, and didn't give much if any thought beyond it.  Even the most sophisticated one, David, just follows his programming, looking for the way to be the child-in-family he was designed to be.  They do show some first tentative steps outside of their programming, but when meeting the archaeologists, that's when  we get to the very interesting ideas.  Humans being long gone, the machines they made became self-aware in the fullest extent of the concept and continued to evolve.  I don't mean 'evolve' as most people mistake the word to mean.. it doesn't mean 'improve'... it means adapt and change.  Just like how when large herd dinosaurs disappeared, their place once emptied, tiny mammals would evolve to take advantage of that ecological niche vacuum and we now find herds of rhino and wilderbeasts where once triceratops occupied.  Same here: humans are gone and the robots evolve to fill that vacuum.

The robots we meet at the end of A.I. are archaeologists.  Like the cylons, they have big questions about their origins, their place in the greater life, but apparently not content to just make up myths, they literally dig for answers.  They look to the past for the evidence that will satisfy their curiosity. We do that, on a good day.  When they meet one of their primitive ancestors they show him kindness and compassion, even though he is to them the equivalent of the tree shrew, perhaps a lemur, to us. We do.. well, we don't really tend to do that.. maybe on a really, really good day. They could have just cut him up to get to the juicy information, but instead they treat him as a person.  I wonder what we'd do if instead of digging up Lucy's bones we had dug up Lucy herself.

Our glimpse is short, but I think there is enough here to suggest that this is the robot that hasn't just equaled us, but has moved well past us, so they get top spot.


If you made it through all my blithering & meandering thoughts, thank you!



Anne said...

Crow and Tom, I'm so glad you included them! I haven't seen A.I. but I like the philosophy behind it.

Honestly I think it would be best if I didn't win any more give aways. I just won one, so if my name gets pulled you might want to consider giving it to the next person down the line.

Sean said...

Fantastic list. I had forgotten about AI. That was a very moving movie for me.

Clint said...

No Cybermen! I can understand why no Darleks as technically not a robot despite being very robot like. Also surprised to see the "Artificial People" from Aliens (Ashley and Bishop) absent from the list, although you might have limited the list to metal robots only. Also the robot from "the day the Earth stood still" would seem an obvious choice.

Overall a very nice list though and perhaps you can do the 5 worst Robots now!

skywatcher said...

Fantastic list of robos. My fav is definitely the replicants.

Ray Rousell said...

Not heard of Crow and Tom???? I think the Cylons would have been my No1. And thanks for the Rifles book mention!! :0D

Laughing Ferret said...

Thanks for the comments everyone :)

A list of 10 always seems tough to me.. always more I'd want to include, but something's got to get the axe.

Cybermen.. for a list of 15 they might have made it. The synthetic people in Aliens I considered, but they're so much like Replicants I didn't give them their own place. Earth/still robot is fun, but I didn't think he was interesting enough or had enough personality to make the top 10.

Ray: not heard of Crow & Tom? You've been deprived of one of the greatest joys of the modern age.. get a hold of some dvds of Mystery Science Theater 3000 or check out youtube, there are many full length movies on thereof MST3K. I'd recommend:

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Manos: Hands of Fate
War of the Colossal Beast (mostly because of the great short first 'Mr. B Natural'
.. the shorts (taken from a lot of 50's/60's public info or training films & such) are often the most hilarious.

the worst robots.. hmm.. I may have to.

Anne said...

That B Natural short gave me the heeby jeebies. I'm still traumatized by it. Did you see Revenge of The Colossal Beast? They didn't even bother putting the same actor in the role. And despite his ginormous size, they couldn't seem to find him!

Clint said...

Thank you for doing these lists btw. They always get me thinking.

Darn just thought of another I would have added.... "Huey, Loui, and Dewey" from Silent running!

Laughing Ferret said...

Clint: limiting to 10 is really hard isn't it?

Thanks btw, glad you're enjoying them. I've been having fun with the lists.. i know it's only related to minis vaguely by genre, but I enjoy writing and it's given me an excuse to indulge that.

Anne: yes, I saw both the colossal beasts.. I've probably seen 98% of the episodes at one time or another. There was a summer that Comedy Central played one a night and I'd watch & record it, pausing to take out the commercials... in the days of the vcr & no digital recorders. I had a ton of tapes- I had to abandon about 20 awesome tapes at the house of a woman I was dating who turned out to be insane and too scary to risk going back for them. and a friend has a box of about 40 tapes, each one had 2 or 3 movies on them.

Mr. B is sure traumatizing though.. "forget Music, I want to dance!"

B Natural is about the funniest thing I've ever seen. Probably tied with the short "what to do on a date".

for anyone who's never seen them, go check them out :)

Michael Awdry said...

Another great post and some of my favourites there, the Star Wars robots and Replicants. Of course then the were The black Hole robots, Old B.O.B. was a particular favourite.

Edwin King said...

I've been enjoying these lists, and this one is the most interesting of the lot. It's good to read the careful reasoning behind your choices.

Thanks for the plug. Best of luck in the draw!

Matt Harvath said...

Great Post! Those robots bring back so many memories! And the gary numan video. I forget he had other songs than "Cars"

Robert Hingley said...

I am another who has not heard of Crow and Tom. You missed my favorite movie robot, Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet.

Laughing Ferret said...

Michael: the black hole robots are pretty cool, I like them too.

Robert: Thanks! Robby nearly made it, but like the androids from aliens compared to blade runner replicants, I always associated Robby with Robot from lost in Space: they seem very similar to me, but I prefer Robot, so Robby lost out for a place in the list since he was similar and I wanted a wider spread of different types. This limit to 10 listing can be tough.

Thanks Matt: Gary Numan is great.. one of my favorites, has a ton of amazing work, just (at least in the US, don't know about UK) nothing but 'Cars' ever made the radio.

Thanks Edwin, very kind of u!

Jeremy [Retro] said...

great choices, i just had a bitch session on the "bad" robots... i am happy we agree on the blade runner front, it's becoming one of my top selling t-shirts... thank you for stopping over on that day... it was a cold rainy night, both of us on that rooftop...

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