Robots and Hollywood: Fact Vs. Fiction

Thursday, January 30, 2014

C-3PO in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. (Lucasfilm)

Rosie from the Jetsons, R2-D2 from Star Wars, the Terminator—here in America, our understanding of robots has been built around what we see on the big screen.

From the idea of life-size, human-like creatures that run our errands and serve as our friends, to those that cause mass-scale destruction or turn on humanity altogether, Hollywood has shaped our understanding of robotics.

But as scientists and technology companies begin developing robots and incorporating robotics technologies into our every day lives, will our Hollywood understanding ring true in reality?

Erik Sofge contributes to Popular Science and writes about science fiction for Slate. He explains how Hollywood has driven our perception of robots, and how far off it is from reality.


Erik Sofge

Produced by:

Arwa Gunja and Mythili Rao


T.J. Raphael

Comments [5]

L. A. Garcia

Please send 2 robots IMMEDIATELY.

One to do the house work and the other, VERY IMPORTANT, to teach me Calculus, Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry, German & Italian.

Feb. 01 2014 05:49 PM
Rick from Bainbridge Island, WA

No conversation about robots and Hollywood would be complete without including Gort in "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (original 1951 B&W). For those unfamiliar, it was a thought provoking movie made in the era of the atomic scare and very bad sci-fi movies. The aliens in them were usually uglier, but more intelligent than we humans (an interesting comment in itself). "Day", however was a poignant comment on where we were going as a society in terms of atomic self destruction. The eight foot tall robot Gort landed in Washington DC along with its humanoid master Klaatu, who carried a message of warning to all Earthlings that if we exported our violent ways beyond our own planet, we would answer to Gort (and an interstellar fleet of its equals) that could reduce the planet to "a burned out cinder". Along with its destructive abilities, Gort also demonstrated the power to bring a human back to life following recent death. It was made of an impervious material, spoke not a word, and had a destructive beam of that appeared from beneath a visor on its "face" if it sensed violence being perpetrated around it. As Klaatu stated, Gort and its equals had absolute power and authority to patrol the planets to preserve peace and eradicate sources of violence as they saw fit. Before he and Gort left the planet, Klaatu implored the citizens of Earth to either join the rest of the universe in renouncing violence and living in peace, or face annihilation. No debate. I was a young boy when I first saw the movie. It scared the heck out of me, and for years I could not look at the night sky without wonder where Gort was now.

Jan. 30 2014 05:24 PM
James from Rochester, Minnesota

I sometimes wonder if "The Terminator" was, at least in part, inspired by the end of the movie "West World," where a malfunctioning gunfighter android pursues one of the guests, trying to kill him.

Jan. 30 2014 02:58 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Robot Monster is a movie of a robot who looks like a man in a gorilla suit with a fish bowl on his head. One of the worst movies ever made and so it is "fantastic"...this monster Ro-man has killed off the planet but has fallen in love with a wo-man.
Plan 9 and Robot Monster great double feature

Jan. 30 2014 01:48 PM
Tevya from Seattle

To augment your conversation on robots-in-film, I would point to the movie realization( of Azimov's book "Bicentennial Man" where the robot acts in the role you suggested--as a home companion.

The book and movie focus on the concept of robots yearning to become human but if that is taken away, the early sections of the story do represent a reasonable presentation of the idea of robots as humanoid helpers.

Jan. 30 2014 01:05 PM

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