Just like sci-fi authors and film directors predicted, humans are becoming more dependent on Artificial Intelligence. Just ask Siri, or Xfinity, or a nearby Roomba. These inventions make our lives easier, giving us convenient ways of either getting work done or enjoying our downtime once the work is finished. Soon enough, self-driving cars will make our commute easier.
The internet of things is quickly taking over, but no one has invented a life-like android. Robots do repetitive work in factories, and robotic body parts are helping a lot of people, but there aren’t any androids who can pass for humans. Would mankind benefit from having androids who look and act like humans? Or would they disrupt our perception of what it means to be human? Lots of sci-fi movies and TV shows have explored this theme. Here are 15 androids who come dangerously close to being human.
Spoiler warning: This article contains spoilers for multiple TV series and films mentioned.
Melinda May has been many things to many people on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” She was Andrew’s wife, before he was sliced by a fiery chain; she is Coulson’s best friend and would-be lover; she’s Daisy’s trainer; and to S.H.I.E.L.D. at large, she is the cavalry. The one thing that’s underlying all of those roles is her big heart. Regardless of her tough-as-nails appearance, May is a softie when it comes to the people she cares about, or the people she is sworn to protect.
That’s possibly why it was so shocking, in “The Laws of Inferno Dynamics” in Season 4, when May and the audience realized she was an android. While S.H.I.E.L.D. agents were scrambling to contain AIDA, and keep her from the Darkhold, May was awfully interested in where the mind-blowing book was hidden. The episode was brilliantly written so that May’s interest in the Darkhold seemed reasonable to her fellow agents, while seeming dangerous to the audience. To make May’s switcheroo even more painful, she and Coulson shared some really tender moments. Android-May didn’t last long after Coulson figured out what she really was.
Data was to “Star Trek: The Next Generation” what Spock was to the original “Star Trek.” He had an unemotional view of the crew’s adventures, which provided a lot of the show’s humor. For instance, when Wesley caught Data trying to sneeze, he asked, “Do you have a cold?” To which Data responded, “A cold what?” However, it wasn’t always fun and games with this clammy-looking android. As Data asked questions and tried to understand human behavior, the people around him were forced to examine their own feelings and beliefs. Frequently, Data played devil’s advocate when Captain Picard let his emotions rule his decisions.
As “The Next Generation” progressed, Data’s personality changed in small ways. He began to show more emotion, and reflect human behavior a little more accurately. (He even developed feelings for his cat, Spot.) His fondness for his crew mates led him to do brave things to save them, like when he gave up his cranial unit, a.k.a. his head, to help Commander Riker. Data may have been an android, but he was also a true friend.
“Andromeda” had more than one android, but Doyle was memorable for a couple of reasons. Doyle was a blond bombshell, created by Seamus Harper, the ship’s engineer, in Season 5. He built Doyle to house the starship’s A.I., after its original android body, Rommie (short for Andromeda), was failing. Her main purpose was to be the starship’s avatar and communicate with the crew, but the Doyle version was also his bodyguard. Her innards were accessed through panels that Seamus, purposely, placed in intimate locations.
Doyle was different than her predecessor, not just in her appearance. At first, Doyle didn’t know she was an android. After Seamus broke the news to her, she made it clear that she wanted to be human, while Rommie had been perfectly happy being the warship’s android avatar. Eventually, Rommie was restored and the two androids were forced to work together. They later earned each other’s respect and formed a friendship.
Cameron was the android sent back in time to protect John Connor in “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.” She had all the usual terminator characteristics, such as incredible strength, great hand-to-hand combat skills and excellent marksmanship. More than once, she protected John simply by taking a beating or getting exploded. In the beginning of the series, she was remarkably human-like, even passing for a high school student. However, as the show continued, and she took on more and more damage, she became more like a robot. She even displayed glitches, especially when she malfunctioned and reverted to her mission to kill John Connor.
One of the reasons Cameron was so interesting, especially for die-hard fans of sci-fi and fantasy shows, was because she was played by Summer Glau, who played River on “Firefly.” Although River was human, she had a very odd personality, one that was robotic, at times, and emotionally detached. Seeing Summer Glau play another emotionally detached character seemed like a nod to “Firefly,” which aired on the same network as “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” on Fox.
Kamelion was a shape-shifting android, encountered by the Fifth Doctor on “Doctor Who.” At his most basic level, he appeared to be a silver metal robot with a round, green-lit abdomen. However, if his operator concentrated hard enough, Kamelion could become anyone, including the King of England or the Doctor himself. The Doctor met Kamelion in 1215 A.D., when he was being controlled by the Master, the cunning Time Lord, who brought the android back after he escaped Xeriphas. The Doctor saved Kamelion from The Master, breaking their mental bond.
Kamelion’s time on the Tardis was brief. His mind was too easily manipulated, and he wound up being controlled by the Master again. Kamelion displayed his most human emotion when, realizing the Master was going to force him to do more evil deeds, he begged the Doctor to destroy him for good. The Doctor obliged by shrinking Kamelion down to miniature size using the Master’s tissue compression eliminator. Kamelion made such an impression, the Doctor remembered his android companion when he regenerated.
Before there were blonde Fembots who shot bullets from their silvery bras in “Austin Powers,” there were terrifying Fembots on “The Bionic Woman.” The Fembots were a creation of Dr. Franklin. He replaced the secretaries of the six most important men in the Office of Scientific Intelligence so that he could steal a device that controls the weather. None of them suspected a thing, including the director, Oscar Goldman. Jaime Sommers, the Bionic Woman herself, realized something was off about the Fembots because her super-sensitive hearing went nuts every time she came close to one.
When the secretaries showed up at Jaime’s apartment and attacked her, however, her suspicions were confirmed. A Fembot’s face came off during the struggle to reveal a horrifying circuit board under a wig. For 1976 TV, that was scary stuff! The Fembots were like taking “The Stepford Wives” too far. Then it turned out that the scientist’s son, Carl Franklin, was a ‘bot too. Maybe that was the show’s attempt at equal opportunity?
The Buffybot on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was at once hilarious and horrifying. Spike had Warren build her because the real Buffy was rebuffing his advances. She looked exactly like Buffy (“We’re very pretty”) but she was the sunniest version of Buffy anyone had ever seen. Even when she talked about killing she had a smile on her face. Spike’s scenes with the Buffybot were funny because she didn’t understand what was happening, and he was acting like a lovesick idiot. The idea of the Buffybot, however, was disgusting, and everyone, except Spike and maybe Anya, told Spike exactly that.
Regardless of why she was made, the Buffybot turned out to be very helpful. In their final showdown with the Glory, the gang sent the Buffybot to fight the goddess for a bit to help slow her down and distract her for a while. Glory bought it until Buffybot’s head came off. Even then, she was a little confused.
Janet is the embodiment of the A.I. in “The Good Place.” She knows everything there is to know in the universe, including what people said and did in their lives on Earth. She appears whenever someone calls for assistance. She’s perky and cheerful and, like a lot of other androids, very clueless about social cues and human behavior. Sometimes Michael, the architect of the neighborhood and her programmer, will task her with getting better at something humans do, like when she tries on a variety of personalities all in one episode.
Janet gets her own story arc toward the end of Season 1, after Chidi murders her. She reboots into a new version of Janet, but without all of Janet’s memories. As her memories return, she becomes more like a human and finds herself attracted to Jason. Jason is also attracted to Janet, and they wind up getting married, which is against the rules. The new Janet doesn’t adhere to the rules of the Good Place like her previous model, and seems to enjoy going rogue. She even helps Eleanor escape.
Like many shows about human replicas, “Humans” examines what it means to be, well, human. The contradiction of “Humans” is that the show is using androids to explore the human condition, like love, evil, relationships and morals. It also looks at how technology and the increasing presence of A.I. is having an impact on us. The Synths are the latest must-have gadget on “Humans.” Synths are meant to be servants, babysitters or assistants, depending on the owner’s needs. Max, in particular, has very human qualities. Leo’s father built him, along with other Synths, to care for Leo when he could not. Leo and the Synths became very fond of each other.
Max embodies the best human traits, like loyalty and bravery. In Season 1’s sixth episode, Max sacrifices himself to give Leo a chance to get away from Professor Hobb and the armed guards he brings with him. It is one of Max’s most human-like acts. Just before he falls into the river, Max says, “If I die, it means I’ve lived.”
The Fox network has a bit of a reputation for canceling TV shows before they can gain traction with an audience, with “Firefly” being their most notorious cancellation. “Almost Human” was another genre TV series that was canceled halfway through its first season, even though it was receiving positive reviews. “Almost Human” was set in the year 2048. It focused on two cops, one human, with a lot of emotional baggage, and one android, that was an older model who still showed feelings. Their relationship was rocky, at first, because John Kennex, the human, didn’t trust his android partner, Dorian. Eventually, they formed a stronger bond after facing many life and death situations.
The dynamic between John and Dorian was interesting because, although Dorian was the “synthetic,” he usually displayed more emotion than John did. Dorian’s childlike nature softened John little by little, while John’s past and his skillfulness in the field fascinated Dorian. John also like Dorian’s willingness to take more risks than the newer models. They worked well as partners, and their blossoming friendship was fun to watch.
Set in 2093, “Prometheus” is about a group of space explorers who are following a star map, hoping to find clues about the origin of the human race. While the crew is in stasis during the flight, David, the android, monitors them as well as the ship. He is very childlike, like many of the other androids on this list, but he differs from them in that he is also childish. He is arrogant, because he knows everything about the universe, and he is jealous, because he wants the humans to give him the respect he thinks he deserves.
David begins the movie as essentially a servant, taking care of the crew and the ship. As his jealousy grows, he becomes irritated and obstinate. He stops following orders and becomes sneaky and secretive. Once the crew discovers that they’re not alone on the moon, David turns out to be on his own mission. As an android, David is a failure because he doesn’t actually help the crew. David also displays some of the most human, and unfortunate, elements we have.
4. GIGOLO JOE
“A.I.” depicted a future in which humans have become overly dependent on Mechas, or androids. Mechas were originally meant to be helpers, but now they’ve become companions. Some of them are used to keep people from becoming lonely, or so they can feel loved. Gigolo Joe is a Mecha whose job is to please women. He is programmed for all sorts of charming conversation and seductive moves. However, Gigolo Joe is on the run from the law. He is being framed for murder.
Joe proves to be more than the sum of his parts, so to speak. When he encounters David, a Mecha boy who has been cast aside, he takes the boy with him, taking care of him and promising to help him on his quest to become a real boy. They find themselves on the top of Rockefeller Center, which is flooded in this dystopia, looking for the Wizard who will help David. The authorities catch up to Joe, sadly, but his last act in the movie is selfless. He helps David escape, even as he’s being dragged away.
In fiction, androids are generally made to serve a purpose. Some are meant to be protectors, some are experiments, and some are little more than wish fulfillment. On “Battlestar Galactica,” Six had more than one purpose. Several models of Six appeared on the show, but the Six we’re talking about is the one who wore a striking red dress, and whispered sultry nothings into Gaius Baltar’s ear. The audience’s perception of Six went through many stages. First, we though she was real. Then, we realized she was just a figment of his imagination. After that, other models of Six showed up, which resulted in one embarrassing scene when Baltar asks Six to unbutton her blouse, only to find out she’s real and everyone else can see her.
Six was a very powerful Cylon, even in Baltar’s imagination. She was able to talk him into doing horrible things. She also convinced Baltar that he was a god, or at the very least he felt like one when he was in her presence. She played a big part in the destruction of the colonies and the rise of the Cylons.
2. ROY BATTY
Replicants weren’t allowed on Earth in “Blade Runner.” These androids, built by the Tyrell Corporation, were meant to do menial labor, or dangerous tasks, on the off-world colonies. Roy Batty was the leader of a rogue group of Replicants called Nexus 6. He was their leader because he had an A physical level, which meant he was the strongest, and an A mental level, which meant he was a genius. He became Blade Runner Deckard’s nemesis, fighting to keep his Replicants alive while Deckard hunted them down.
The thing that made Roy Batty more human than the other Replicants was that he wanted more life. He wanted to live longer, even though his programming and mechanical make-up wouldn’t allow it. Most humans want to live the longest life possible, so his despair was understandable. Crushing the head of his maker was, perhaps, not as relateable. In his final moments, however, he showed compassion — forgiveness? — and saved Deckard from dying. Then, he gave one of the most memorable monologues in film history.
On “Westworld,” Dolores is the original host, the oldest one in the park. She was also Arnold’s ultimate experiment, while he was still alive. He pushed her to examine her inner monologue, hoping to see if he could instill consciousness, or self-awareness, in a man-made creation. He was successful, but his success was, in many ways, Dolores’s downfall. She became more and more vexed by the memories that kept cropping up and confusing her. Her completeness as a host also allowed her to form a kind of love for William, even though the William she was in love with was frozen in time for her, so much so that she didn’t recognize him in his black hat.
Dolores is somewhat of a paradox. One on hand, she is a sweet, generous woman who sees nothing but beauty in the world. On the other hand, she is a brutal killer, handily shooting a whole crowd. Twice. She’s the kind of gal you want as a friend, because she’s loyal to a fault. She’s also the kind of host to have as a student, because, apparently, she follows directions very well.
Do you have a favorite lifelike android? Tell us in the comments!