Robots, Androids, and Cyborgs in Film: Here to Help, or Out to Kill?

It’s a normal day. You’re walking down Queen Street West and pass a stranger. You smile. They don’t smile back. And then you say to yourself, “They must be an android.”

If there’s one thing that Star Trek taught me, it’s that artificially intelligent machines, like Data, can look almost identical to humans.

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So what separates a cyborg from a commonplace robot? What makes Hollywood’s obsession with artificial intelligence so different from alien abduction, infectious zombies or rabies-riddled werewolves?

Robots have occupied sci-fi videography since the early 20th century and have terrified us ever since. So what makes them so intimidating?

Firstly, it’s important to understand the classifications. A robot is a programmed machine that performs routine tasks with humanlike skill, sometimes without original thought. However, an android refers to an artificially intelligent machine that resembles a human. Lastly, a cyborg is a human being whose physical or mental abilities have been improved by mechanical additions to the body.

Hollywood usually depicts antagonistic androids like The Terminator : a metal, often skeletal-looking machine, shaped to resemble the average human being. Two legs and two arms, but with gears and wires instead of bones and muscles and maybe some artificial tissue to hide the metal joints and demonic red eyes.

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Cyborgs are often a bit friendlier. Hollywood tends to take the archetypal underdog and amp him up with mechanic limbs, making him a bionic super-hero, like Matt Damon in Elysium.

The most endearing – and my personal favourite – is the basic robot. This heroic being is usually characterized as some sort of box or container with a few flashy buttons and a pair of wheels, like R2D2 from Star Wars.

Androids terrify me the most. Their “natural” appearance is intimidating, and the fact that they can also blend into everyday life while concealing a hidden agenda to annihilate all of mankind is just icing on the cake. As someone who can’t handle scary sci-fi films without experiencing post-traumatic stress, I tend to love the simple robots that look less like machines-from-Hell, and more like charming companions. It’s probably the appearance and adorable beeping sounds that make these guys so lovable; well that, and also no one fears that Wall-E was sent from the future to destroy them and their unborn child.

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As technology advances, the possibility of real-life androids and cyborgs becomes all the more likely, and Hollywood clearly intends to keep cashing in on the fear that they’re here to destroy us. Despite my disciplinary choice to only watch Pixar-animated robots on film, I can’t fight the persistent anxiety that my toaster is secretly a Decepticon and could come alive at any moment

-Contributed by Lisa Niro

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