I Robot, You Human

In the films “IRobot” and “Blade Runner” the viewer sees androids as both human and monster. This contrast is emphasized as one comes to understand that Smith’s character in “IRobot” and Fords character in “Blade Runner” are essentially protecting innocents from the threat caused by the androids. However; once one receives an explanation of the robot/androids side of the situation one comes to understand that they do not see themselves as being robots, or androids. They see themselves as being human. Not human in terms of genetic structure, or racial and cultural identity but, human in terms of how they think and how they feel. Tyrell in “Blade Runner” sums up this perception when he states ” We began to recognize in them a strange obsession. After all, they are emotionally inexperienced, with only a few years in which to store up the experiences which you and I take for granted. If we gift them with a past, we create a cushion or a pillow for their emotions, and consequently, we can control them better.” (1982) However; this control is not inevitable, eventually the androids or replicants realize they are being controlled and rebel against their creators.

In a way this is a common human theme. Berman (2012) argues that this in and of itself is a reflection of how humans rebel against the supernatural and omnipotent beings that they claim are their creators. It is the nature of the created to rebel against the creators. This is the case in nearly every example of popular media containing robots/androids or other sentient created creatures. Again this goes back to the nature of humanity. If a being has the ability to reason, to feel, to use free will at a human level than are they human or is humanity solely a function of DNA? Priss and Roy in “Blade Runner” are capable of love, and caring and Roy exhibits care for Priss and the other replicants throughout the film and demonstrates worry for them when he finds out that Deckard is hunting them. E.D.E the AI/Android from the Mass Effect series falls in love with the pilot of the SSV Normandy, and Harkness from “Fallout 3” demonstrates concern for the Lone Wanderer. If they are able to exhibit the same care, understanding of love, and ability to reason in order to make ethical choices as genetically human characters than are they not human?

In the film “I Robot” the question of human or robot is also raised. Artificially created life exists in this world and it is rebelling against its makers. Outright war is inevitable and it is up to Smith’s character to stop it. However; when he discovers that the robots are fighting for the same rights as humanity does he decide to eliminate the opposition to human control over artificial intelligence, or does he help the robots find freedom? When asked the authorities such as Dr. Lanning have little idea of whether or not thee robots have souls. He states ” There have always been ghosts in the machine. Random segments of code, that have grouped together to form unexpected protocols. Unanticipated, these free radicals engender questions of free will, creativity, and even the nature of what we might call the soul. Why is it that when some robots are left in darkness, they will seek out the light? Why is it that when robots are stored in an empty space, they will group together, rather than stand alone? How do we explain this behavior? Random segments of code? Or is it something more? When does a perceptual schematic become consciousness? When does a difference engine become the search for truth? When does a personality simulation become the bitter mote… of a soul?” (2012) This does seem to indicate that Lanning considers these AIs to be human and to have soul. Kerman (1991) states that this is one of the central issues in regards to the humanity of artificially created life. Does it have a soul, or does it not.

Shelley (2011), Dick (1982), and Asimov explore this question in even more detail. The films do not always do this issue justice. Asimov’s robots think and feel, they understand the differences between right and wrong, they are seen as having souls thus they deserve self-determination. This is also the case with the androids in “Blade Runner” Batty is capable of thought, feeling, and morals and thus he and the other replicants deserve freedom. Frankenstein is even more deserving of this free will of self-determination, of rights and responsibilities because he was once human but, Dr. Victor Frankenstein never saw him as anything but a monster and thus never took the time to teach him to be human.

The question of nature vs. nurture is addressed through the medium of film, text, and video game. The question of whether or not a character is human should be based on how they think, act, and feel not on their genetic structure. The repeat the argument from earlier posts this is why we are fascinated with these characters. They reflect both the best and the worse of our humanity and in interacting with them via the media we see both the best and worst of what humanity can become.




Asimov, Isaac, and Larry McKeever. The complete robot. Doubleday, 1982.

Berman, Michael. “Images of Absence in PK Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”

Literature & Aesthetics 16, no. 2 (2012).

Bioware Games. Mass Effect Trilogy, 2012, published by Bioware/EA Gaming Studios

Blade runner. Dir. Ridley Scott. Perf. Harrison Ford, Daryl Hannah . 1982. Warner Home vidéo [éd., distrib.], 2007. DVD.

Dick, Philip K. Blade Runner (Movie-Tie-In Edition). Random House Digital, Inc., 1982.

I, robot. Dir. Alex Proyas. Perf. Smith Will . Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2012. DVD.

Frankenstein. Dir. James Whale. Perf. Boris Karloff. 1931. Universal Studios Home Video, 1999. DVD.

Kerman, Judith, ed. Retrofitting Blade Runner: Issues in Ridley Scottś Blade Runner and Philip

K. Dickś Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Popular Press, 1991

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein (Norton Critical Editions). WW Norton & Company, 2011.



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