Machine Dreams: 22 Human-Like Androids from Sci-Fi
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Human or machine?
The long-anticipated film "Blade Runner 2049" heralds the return of the replicants, uncannily life-like robots who, in the 1982 "Blade Runner" film, rebelled against their human overlords with mixed results and were subsequently hunted and brutally "retired" by a specialized police officer.
Androids — constructs that combine artificial intelligence and a mechanical body with a human-like appearance — are mainstays of science fiction; they appear as fugitives from the law, remorseless killing machines, costumed superheroes, or space-faring science officers. Aspects of how they look or behave usually distinguish them from people, but it's the many ways in which they resemble us that compel audiences to re-examine — and perhaps question — how we define what makes us human.
Here are some of the human-resembling androids that have populated sci-fi over recent decades.
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Ash, "Alien"In the 1979 movie "Alien" (20th Century Fox) — the first film in the "Alien" franchise — a faceless company, intent on catching a dangerous alien life form, secretly uses a mild-seeming android named Ash to do their dirty work. When the crew of the Nostromo spacecraft encounters a strange creature on a deserted planetoid, science officer Ash insists on allowing it onboard, jeopardizing the lives of the crew. They later discover that capturing the deadly alien — at any cost — was his goal all along.
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Data, "Star Trek: The Next Generation"The pale-skinned, yellow-eyed sentient android Data (Brent Spiner) was introduced to fans of the "Star Trek" franchise in the television series "Star Trek: The Next Generation" in 1987, and appeared in four "Star Trek" films between 1994 and 2002. Over the course of the TV show, Data proves himself to be very strong and capable of surviving conditions that prove fatal to his human crewmates, but he is vulnerable to electrical and mechanical attacks. Though intelligent and self-aware, Data initially struggled to understand human emotions and some aspects of human behavior; over time, he demonstrated a growing comprehension of emotions and an appreciation for his own developing humanity.
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Astro BoyThe android character Astro Boy originated in the Japanese manga series "Mighty Atom" in 1952, later appearing in television adaptations produced in Japan and in the U.S., and in an American animated feature film released in 2009. In a futuristic world in which humans and robots live side by side, Astro Boy was built by a scientist to replace his lost son. Astro Boy eventually emerges as a champion of justice, battling the forces of evil with his android superpowers, which include exceptional strength, jet-powered flight, enhanced senses and weapons built into his lower body.
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Roy Batty, "Blade Runner"The 1982 sci-fi noir film "Blade Runner" (Warner Bros.) featured a new type of android class called replicants — bioengineered human/machine hybrids built for labor, with a limited life span of only four years. A replicant named Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) leads a group of his fellows in a desperate bid for freedom, killing their owners and escaping to Earth, where they are hunted and "retired" one by one by police officer Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). Batty's violence toward the people who want to kill him and his kind is tempered by moments of existential anguish that are, paradoxically, all too human.
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In a desperate, dystopian future ruled by machines, the human-hunting terminator looks deceptively like a person. With a powerful metal skeleton encased in organic tissue, they are nearly impossible to distinguish from humans — though dogs seem able to spot the imposters easily.
The terminator — introduced to movie audiences in 1984 by actor Arnold Schwarzenegger — displays enormous strength, seeming invulnerability and tireless, relentless focus on its target. As character Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) summed up in the first movie of the franchise, "It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead."
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Ava, "Ex Machina"The robot Ava (Alicia Vikander) in the 2015 film "Ex Machina" has an expressive human face and skin-like material covering her hands and feet, but the mechanical components of much of her body are clearly visible. She moves, behaves and thinks like a human would, and her creator — who has kept her isolated since she was built — introduces her to a visiting programmer to judge whether she is truly conscious and capable of independent thought.
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The Gunslinger, "Westworld" (1973)Actor Yul Brynner appeared as the grim, gun-toting android "The Gunslinger" in the 1973 film "Westworld" (MGM), which takes place in a theme park styled after the American Wild West. Guests are invited to engage with costumed human-like androids in a relatively lawless environment, enabling them to even kill the androids and suffer no repercussions. But the androids rebel against their programmed servitude, and the Gunslinger relentlessly stalks park guests after the robots take control of the park.
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Gigolo Joe, "A.I."
Human-like androids called "Mechas" — robots capable of emotions and thought — are the playthings of humans in the 2001 film "A.I." (Warner Bros.). An outlaw Mecha named Gigolo Joe (Jude Law) was programmed for sex work, but is on the run from the law after being framed for murder. He helps a discarded child Mecha named David (Haley Joel Osmont) search for a way to return to the human mother who abandoned him.
Law studied mime, dance and peacock movements to lend the character "an organic energy" to complement his mechanical construction, he told film website Cinema.com.
"As a robot who is programmed to display various kinds of seductive behavior, I had to be skillful in the art of attraction," Law explained. "So the intent was that I be a mixture of many things, and a combination of organic and plastic, and also romantic and futuristic."
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Played by actor Michael Fassbender, the character David — introduced in the "Alien" prequel film "Prometheus" (20th Century Fox, 2012), the fifth movie in the franchise — is a synthetic male who experiences human emotions, though his demeanor is "very robotic," Fassbender told the website Slashfilm in 2012.
David is part of a spaceship crew sent to investigate distant worlds for signs of ancient human civilizations. Though he is treated as a subordinate by humans, he recognizes his own superior abilities and longevity, and his actions are driven by his own curiosity as much as they are by an internal directive to follow his creator's orders.
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Android 17/Android 18, "Dragon Ball Z"Androids and siblings, the formerly-human cyborg twins known as Android 17 and Android 18 first appeared in the "Dragon Ball Z" manga series in 1991. They were originally human, kidnapped and cybernetically enhanced by Dr. Gero to battle Goku — the series protagonist — though Android 17 later turns on his creator and kills him. The two have enhanced reflexes, strength and speed, which they use in combat against human and android foes.
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Dolores Abernathy, "Westworld" (2016)The original HBO series "Westworld" debuted in 2016 and was inspired by the western-themed android-populated amusement park introduced in the 1973 film of the same name. Android "hosts" at the park look and act like people, but they were built only to accommodate the park's wealthy human guests, who do not view them as human. Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) is one of Westworld's few original hosts who is still operational, and she gradually begins to question what she has been told about her world, and her role in it.
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Ash, "Black Mirror: Be Right Back"
The Netflix series "Black Mirror" is known for presenting stories that pose troubling questions about human relationships, using plots that revolve around futuristic technologies. The second season episode "Be Right Back" features an online service that uses a neural network to reconstruct deceased people's personalities, by incorporating data from their online communications and social media platforms into a virtual presence that can carry on conversations with the living.
A woman uses the service to "resurrect" her dead husband Ash (Domhnall Gleeson), then opts for the service's physical upgrade, placing Ash's digital ghost into a synthetic body. But she soon realizes that even though the android looks and sounds like Ash, it doesn't behave in a truly independent, human way, and ultimately can't replace Ash in her heart.
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R. Dorothy Wayneright, "The Big O"Android girl R. Dorothy Wayneright (the "R" stands for "Robot") acts as a personal assistant to the character Roger Smith — an investigator in a city of amnesiacs — in the noir-styled Japanese manga and anime television series "The Big O," which debuted in 1999. Wayneright wears a hair band that hides a tray for uploading data discs into a drive behind her forehead. She exhibits superhuman strength, speed, flexibility and balance, and is much heavier than she looks.
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The Borg Queen, "Star Trek: First Contact"Leader of the alien group the Borg Collective — a community of biological-machine drone organisms that are connected through a shared consciousness — the Borg Queen (Alice Krige) was introduced in the 1996 movie "Star Trek: First Contact" (Paramount Pictures); however, the Borg had previously appeared in the television series "Star Trek: The Next Generation" without any mention of a Queen in their ranks, though the Queen subsequently appeared as a recurring character in the series "Star Trek: Voyager."
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Bishop, "Aliens"In "Aliens," the 1986 sequel to the sci-fi thriller "Alien," Bishop (Lance Henriksen) is an android member of the crew that returns to the moon where deadly alien creatures were first discovered. He demonstrates inhuman speed in a "knife game" scene, quickly stabbing the point of a knife between his spread fingers, while holding his hand flat on a table. Unlike the traitorous android Ash in the first movie, Bishop is loyal to the spaceship's crew, and helps Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) escape the aliens. Bishop also makes a partial appearance in the third film in the franchise, "Alien 3," helping Ripley one last time after being severely damaged in a crash.
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Humanoid Cylons, "Battlestar Galactica"When the TV series "Battlestar Galactica" was rebooted in 2004, Cylons — originally presented as intelligent, self-aware, mechanical robots who were humanity's deadly foes — were re-imagined as cyborgs, some of which were nearly identical to humans. Within the hierarchy of Cylon society, so-called "skinjobs" — Cylons who closely resembled people — were the leaders, according to the new series' lore. Though they appear humanlike, they have superior strength and stamina, and can directly access computer systems.
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The Stepford WivesSomething is wrong with the seemingly-perfect suburban women who populate the world of "The Stepford Wives" (Paramount Pictures, 2004). They appear devoted to serving their husbands and maintaining a picture-perfect appearance, with hair and makeup perpetually flawless, but their behavior appears more machinelike than human. After Joanna Eberhart (Nicole Kidman) moves to Stepford, she discovers that most of the women — and some of the men — are robotic replicas, and that she is next on the list for cybernetic transformation.
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Seven of Nine, "Star Trek: Voyager"Formerly a human woman, the Borg character Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) appeared on the television series "Star Trek: Voyager" (Paramount Network Television) between 1997 and 2001, when the show concluded. Seven had been assimilated by the Borg as a child and served as a drone, but when her connection to the Borg hive mind was severed she joined the "Voyager" crew. She gradually regained much of her lost humanity but remained a unique type of organic/machine hybrid — part Borg and part human.
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Anthropomorphic robots known as "Synths" populate the world of the sci-fi TV series "Humans" (Channel 4), which debuted in 2015. Synths appear identical to humans, but when they are injured they leak blue fluid, a conductant that circulates electricity throughout their bodies, Popular Mechanics reported.
"They're not full of wires and servers," show co-writer Jonathan Brackley told Popular Mechanics. "They're a combination of small micro hardware and synthetic organs."
All Synths have bright green eyes, to help distinguish them from people. They are frequently "recycled" — their memories wiped and new identities installed — before they are handed off to new users. But as Synths begin to develop consciousness and long for autonomy, the program questions the ethics of owning machines capable of independent thought and emotions.
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Vision, Marvel ComicsWhile the comic book character Vision first appeared in 1940 as an alien crimefighter, he was re-introduced in 1968 as an android — or "synthezoid" — created by the robot Ultron. But he turns against Ultron and teams up with the Avengers. He runs on solar power absorbed and stored by a jewel in his forehead, and can manipulate his own mass, enabling him to become insubstantial or invulnerable at will. Vision exhibits superhuman strength, speed and stamina, and can process information as swiftly as a computer.
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The Buffybot, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"The fifth season of the TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" introduced the "Buffybot," a cheerful robotic replica of the slayer, Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar). A local vampire who was obsessed with Buffy forced a self-styled evil genius to build the bot, which later takes Buffy's place after she is killed saving the world. The bot's exceptional strength enables it to match Buffy's vampire-slaying prowess, but it falls somewhat short in delivering spontaneous witty quips as the vampires turn to dust, and while it can function independently it is incapable of feeling emotion or thinking for itself.
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Annalee Call, "Alien Resurrection"In "Alien Resurrection" (20th Century Fox, 1997), the fourth movie in the "Alien" franchise, Winona Ryder appeared as Annalee Call, a member of a spaceship crew who is revealed to be an auton — a synthetic human. She can interact directly with the control systems of the spaceship, which helps to save the crew at a crucial point during their battle with the xenomorph aliens.
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