The 5 most memorable robots in literature
- Marvin the Paranoid Android
- Does suffering define a person? Marvin from ‘The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy’ is a robot suffering from a particular human personality defect - depression. And if a robot can be a paranoid depressive, surely he’s a person, right? He’s been programmed with GPP - Genuine People Personalities - and he’s a prototype, but with a mind the size of a planet, he seems destined to always feel unfulfilled on a limited earth. Is it just code, or is he truly capable of feeling “very depressed”?
- You may have thought that artificially-created intelligence is a modern idea - but it’s actually been whirring through the human imagination for thousands of years. Galatea is a Roman myth by Ovid about a statue that’s brought to life by a god. This pre-electric android starts out as an ivory statue of a woman, carved by Pygmalion of Crete. It’s such a beautiful statue that Pygmalion falls in love with it and asks the goddess Aphrodite to give him a bride who looks just like the statue. Aphrodite goes one step further and makes Galatea come alive. But could real love ever be found with an automated being?
- “Please stop. Please stop. My mind is going. I can feel it. I’m scared,” says HAL as his memory starts to get disconnected. This AI is the spaceship’s onboard computer in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ and he’s scared of death. Which is why HAL kills one astronaut and tries to kill another - they were going to disconnect him. And for a self-aware robot, this is pretty much the same as an execution. This tale seems to warn us - if we give a machine life, it may end up fighting us in order to keep it.
- Hailing from Greek mythology, giant bronze automaton Talos runs on ichor (‘the blood of the gods’) pumped into a single vein running from his neck to his heel, plugged by a nail. He was created to protect Europa, in Crete, from pirates and invaders, as the city didn’t have any walls. He circled the island's shores three times every day and was much better than any wall - he turned invaders into ash and ambushed ships by flinging boulders at them from the cliffs. But sadly for Talos, the invaders eventually defeated him and the sorceress Medea took out the nail from the vein in his back, releasing his lifeblood and killing him.
- The Tin Man
- The Wizard of Oz is usually viewed as a children’s tale but it’s actually quite bloodthirsty - Dorothy and her gang (the Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow) are asked by a mysterious wizard to slay a witch in return for the one thing each of them desires the most. The Tin Man is quite handy with an axe, which he uses to slice up all of the witch’s pet wolves - lovely. But the reason why this robot is prepared to resort to murder and violence is to get the one thing he lacks - a heart. Is that what a robot needs in order to to be a person? Certainly this story shows that it might be wise to make sure a robot has one before giving it a weapon!
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