From HAL to the Terminator, robots in fiction play the part of the bad guy more often than not. Here in the real world, though, robots do some good work, and very little evil. You can get a taste of some of that good work this Sunday, April 13 at Robotics at the Hangar at Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum, where robotics clubs and companies will show off the latest and greatest in robot tech. To gear up for the show, we offer this look at five of film and television's benevolent, friendly and useful automatons as a reminder that, even in fiction, robots can be good people, too.
5) Wall-E Wall-E should basically be the poster child for positive human-robot relations. He's cute! He takes care of the fat, useless dregs of humanity, despite the fact that they in no way deserve it. He falls in love, or whatever passes it for it among the mechanoids. And hell, he saves us all from certain doom and brings us back to Earth for another chance at making the place livable. Not bad for a waste compactor. 4) GERTY GERTY, from Duncan Jones's Moon, is kind of like HAL's less psychotic kid brother. On the one hand, it may be weird to call an AI tasked with keeping cloned slave labor ignorant of the reality of their situation friendly, but on the other, it was GERTY that kept the Sam clones sane and ultimately told them what was up and even suggested a way to stop the whole thing. Would HAL have done that? No, HAL would have shoved the questioning Sam out an airlock, woken up a new one and gone on its merry way, singing "Daisy" all the way. We'll take GERTY over HAL for all of our long-term space companionship needs, thanks.
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3) Bishop Most of the androids in the Alien universe are total assholes, but Bishop turns out to be the exception. While the space marines were busy getting their ass kicked by the aliens and Ripley was running around trying to keep Newt from being eaten, Bishop risked (artificial) life and limb to guide the shuttle down. Then, when an alien queen ripped him in half and left him for dead, did he give up and go gently into that good night to dream of electric sheep? He did not. He gutted it out and saved Newt from sliding away into oblivion. Good android. 2) R2-D2/C-3PO It's impossible to overstate the importance of these two lovable robots to the Star Wars franchise. For starters, if R2 doesn't smuggle those Death Star plans, the Rebel Alliance is done for -- it's way harder to hit that already hard-to-hit exhaust port if you don't know it's there, and that's just one of several times R2 saves the main characters' bacon. Even C-3PO gets in on the life-saving bit, when he convinces the Ewoks not to eat Han, Leia and friends (with a little help from Luke, but still). Perhaps most important, they provided comic relief in the original trilogy, and when Lucas abandoned the droids and looked for yuks elsewhere, we got Jar Jar. Fuck that. 1) Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot Speaking of comic relief, no two robots have done more in the service of comedy than the two wisecracking 'bots of Mystery Science Theater 3000. In between making the worst movies on Earth into comic genius, they also did some good deeds in the form of keeping Joel and Mike sane as they underwent the Mads' bizarre experiments and forced imprisonment on the cruelly named Satellite of Love. Nice work, guys. You've done robots everywhere proud.