Roy Batty, played by Rutger Hauer, from Blade Runner
Androids are both fascinating and creepy. Technology has already allowed us to create startlingly realistic anthropomorphic robots that closely resemble actual people. Take, for example, the series of ultra-lifelike “Actroids” debuted by Japanese scientists in 2003. Still, replicating human personalities and intelligence isn’t quite so straightforward; and looking at some of the fictional androids on this list, we have to wonder: if we could, would it really be a good idea?
10. The Gunslinger – Westworld (1973)
The Gunslinger, played by Yul Brynner
First up is a creation from Michael Crichton’s classic 1973 sci-fi thriller Westworld. Played by Yul Brynner, the Gunslinger was one of the first of its kind: a movie robot that looks human and kills without any emotion or remorse. Interestingly, Westworld was also the earliest movie to use a pixelated effect to assume an android’s perspective. Although the Gunslinger is designed as a theme park attraction, things go terribly wrong. Instead of the android acting out the part he was programmed to play, a series of system malfunctions causes him to hunt down theme park patrons for real – and to shoot one dead.
Westworld might be considered a forerunner to the more recent Terminator series. Like the Terminator, the Gunslinger is a killing machine that doesn’t stop or even slow down for anything. This figure can also be seen as a precursor to several other iconic on-screen robots turned bad – with our next entry, Blade Runner’s Roy Batty, a prime example.
9. Roy Batty – Blade Runner (1982)
Roy Batty, played by Rutger Hauer
Roy Batty is one of the androids on the run from replicant-hunting ex-cop Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) in Ridley Scott’s cult hit Blade Runner. Played by Rutger Hauer, Batty represents a much more complex character. Not only does he look human, but he also displays human emotions – and not just good ones. Like the Gunslinger, Batty was designed for a purpose – in this case, to fight for the off-world military. However, unlike the case in Westworld, Batty’s murderous impulses aren’t triggered by a malfunction; instead, they’re acts of free will – tied up with his far more sophisticated artificial intelligence.
Military robots are, of course, already a reality in modern defense programs, where autonomous and remote-controlled machines are being developed. Spearheaded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the US military is carrying out research to create devices with at least some degree of artificial intelligence. In fact, in May 2013 the United Nations called for a “global moratorium on the testing, production and use of armed robots that can select and kill targets without human command.” Nevertheless, while robot armies might be part of a future state of affairs, it’s doubtful whether they’ll look like humans.
8. Bishop – Aliens (1986)
Bishop, played by Lance Henriksen
In contrast to several of the androids on this list, Bishop from James Cameron’s Aliens does not go rogue. In fact, he’s a sympathetic character (played by Lance Henriksen) who remains loyal to his human co-workers – unlike Ash, the earlier android in the Alien series. Bishop is an executive officer and a technician, and although he has seen combat, he was not specifically designed for its purpose. His superior speed, reflexes and dexterity are practically the only ways to tell him apart from a regular – if particularly intelligent – human being.
Back in the real world, over the years there have been attempts to produce a number of lifelike androids – with varying degrees of success. Some of the more human-looking versions, such as the so-called Geminoid Actroids, have been modeled on their inventors – as Bishop is said to have been. Currently, operators control these real-life androids remotely, but in time they might possess enough artificial intelligence to be made more independent and closer to the androids we see here – though, we hope, only the benevolent ones.
7. Evil Maria – Metropolis (1927)
Image: Vimeo/Lord Shabazz
Evil Maria from Metropolis
One of the earliest evil androids appeared in Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent movie masterpiece, Metropolis. The robotic Maria (played by Brigitte Helm) has a metallic body covered with skin that mimics a human’s – and which is convincing enough to trick those with whom she comes into contact. Modeled on the human character Maria (also played by Helm) and dubbed “evil Maria,” the android imposter uses her charms to seduce men into killing others out of lust for her. This is one robot that was “born” bad.
Today, even Disney has got in on the android act, creating a special process to mimic a person’s features using silicone skin. Whether androids developed using this process could actually fool someone into thinking they’re real depends on future advances in AI. Replicating skin might be possible, but cloning a personality would be an altogether trickier proposition.
6. Data – Star Trek (1987-2002)
Image: Vimeo/Fabien Bouchard
Data from Star Trek
Although he was introduced in the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, Lieutenant Commander Data (played by Brent Spiner) did also make it onto the big screen (and therefore our list) in four Star Trek movies. Despite being very close to the real thing, Data is not an exact simulation of a person. He strongly resembles his maker, Dr. Noonien Soong (with robot and roboticist played by the same actor), but Data has a strange, yellowish complexion that makes him look distinctly un-human.
Data’s character was originally that of a sentient android who is incapable of feeling human emotions. However, after he implants himself with an “emotion chip” in the movie Star Trek: Generations, he is able to experience the entire spectrum of human feelings – although he battles to control them. The idea of emotions in AI has fascinated science-fiction writers for a long time – but would there be any advantage in robots feeling the way we do?
5. The Terminator – The Terminator (1984)
Image: via Wikipedia
The image of a merciless, virtually indestructible killer robot that stops at nothing to terminate its victim was embedded in our consciousness after watching James Cameron’s 1984 classic The Terminator. The Terminator is an android assassin programmed with one objective: to eliminate Sarah Connor. Possessing super strength and advanced artificial intelligence, the Terminator, or T800, is single-minded, ruthlessly efficient, and thinks nothing of dispatching with numerous other people while carrying out his mission.
The Terminator was made to resemble human beings so that he could blend in and find his target more easily. As already discussed, killer robots are well within the bounds of reality – at least for the military. For now though, thankfully, none of them look anything like actual people – Austrian or otherwise.
4. David – A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Haley Joel Osment plays David in A.I.
When it comes to robots feeling emotion, A.I.’s David is probably at the top of the list. Created with the body of a small child, he has a singular purpose in life: to love the adopted human parent who activates his “imprinting protocol.” The idea is that those who do not have children of their own can still enjoy the benefits of an extremely lifelike android guaranteed to love them back. (In this Spielberg movie, David’s adopted parents have an actual child who is in suspended animation.)
Although David may actually be perceived as one of the creepier androids on our list, it’s also arguably the one most likely to be in demand, were these robots a reality. Our need for affection already drives many people to adopt virtual pets and girlfriends – and even to invest in gadgets that simulate human hugs.
3. Andrew Martin – Bicentennial Man (1999)
Image: YouTube/Matthew Triggs
Andrew from Bicentennial Man
In Bicentennial Man, Andrew Martin (played by Robin Williams) is an android who unexpectedly gains sentience. The movie stems from Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg’s 1992 book The Positronic Man, as well as Asimov’s 1976 shorter work, also titled The Bicentennial Man. In his fiction, Asimov often wrote about sentient robots and explored their ethical implications. In Andrew Martin’s case, the android takes on human qualities such as creativity not to mention emotional awareness and expression.
The notion of sentient robots is a favorite theme in science fiction – as we can see from looking at this list. Still, if robots were to somehow develop human emotions and desires, would we have to cease thinking of them as our mechanical slaves? What would their relationships with people be like? Would they be given rights like our own? Bicentennial Man explores these interesting questions, but even outside science fiction, we find them just as intriguing.
2. David 8 – Prometheus (2012)
Image: YouTube/Clevver Movies
Michael Fassbender as David
Prometheus – director Ridley Scott’s 2012 prequel to the Alien series – features the android David 8. This character is a similar kind of android to Ash and Bishop. And although Bishop is depicted as being basically good, while Ash and David 8 are portrayed more malevolently, all three androids are really only following their programming rather than making ethical choices for themselves.
When David 8 poisons another spaceship crewmember using mysterious alien goo, he’s not trying to willfully harm a human for evil’s sake; rather, he is experimenting to see what will happen, in accordance with instructions from his human programmer. Perhaps such single-minded following of orders without conscience makes the idea of androids appealing – at least to those in control; there are, after all, fields where worker morality might be considered a disadvantage.
1. Carol van Sant – The Stepford Wives (1975)
Carol van Sant from Stepford Wives
Carol van Sant is just one of the sinister domestic goddesses in the 1975 movie version of The Stepford Wives. In the film, the women of Stepford exist only to cook, clean and serve their husbands’ desires. Although they have the appearance of real women, the Stepford wives are revealed to be android clones of their human originals, minus any characteristics their husbands might find unpleasant – such as ambition or minds of their own.
As is the case with David in A.I., the Stepford wives are created as devotedly “ideal” family members, only with less autonomy than David. Perhaps one day we may be able to order our own human-identical androids, tailor-made to meet our own particular preferences – whether it’s the ability to cook our favorite meal… or something kinkier. It’s only hoped that if this does happen, no humans will be harmed in the process.
If movie depictions are anything to go by, producing androids certainly seems like a tricky enterprise. Are they ever likely to become as commonplace as they are in science fiction, or is it more probable that they will remain novelties, while far less human-looking robots in more utilitarian forms become the norm? Either way, it’s going to be interesting to find out.