TV Tropes Monday: Ridiculously Human Robot

Tweet of the Day: Video Games


Real life robots are basically an mechanical arm stuck to the ground with some kind of tool gun at the end of said arm.

Not so in fiction.

Enter this trope.

Which makes perfect sense from a writing point of view, we been doing it for ages:

Anthropomorphism or personification is any attribution of human characteristics (or characteristics assumed to belong only to humans) to other animals, non-living things, phenomena, material states, objects or abstract concepts, such as organizations, governments, spirits or deities. The term was coined in the mid 1700s.[1][2] Examples include animals and plants and forces of nature such as winds, rain or the sun depicted as creatures with human motivations, and/or the abilities to reason and converse. The term derives from the combination of the Greek ἄνθρωπος (ánthrōpos), “human” and μορφή (morphē), “shape” or “form”.

As a literary device, anthropomorphism is strongly associated with art and storytelling where it has ancient roots. Most cultures possess a long-standing fable tradition with anthropomorphised animals as characters that can stand as commonly recognized types of human behavior. In contrast to this, conventional Western science, as well as such religious doctrines as the Christian Great Chain of Being propound the opposite, anthropocentric belief that animals, plants and non-living things, unlike humans, lack spiritual and mental attributes, immortal souls, and anything other than relatively limited awareness.

We do it to our house pets and recent research has shown that we have bred them or reward behaviors that we associate with human emotion or outlook. A cat may rub his head on your pant leg to mark you the same way he marks a table leg but you see it as a friendly hello and scratch it behind the ears. Same thing with robots. If a robot is to be a object worth mentioning then it has to have characteristics that the reader can relate to. Hence the injection of human features, human emotions and human outlook. In many ways robots, as our presumptive “children” serve as a mirror into who we are (or at least think we are). R2-D2 would be nothing but a garbage bin on a tripod unless it screamed or beeped at the right moment. It is a machine, clearly made for industrial labor and military service but you wouldn’t know it by how the audience latched on the little guy.

Of course, if you want a relentless killing machine or a truly alien creature you can dispense with this trope altogether. Then again, a killing machine that is smarter, more empathic and made to look, sound and feel like a human, but isn’t is just as scary, if not more so.

But we will talk about the potential ramifications of that at a later date.


2 comments on “TV Tropes Monday: Ridiculously Human Robot

  1. Do you have any favorite such characters or stories dealing with such?


    • A few. CP3-O and R2-D2 from Star Was come to mind as does Norby the Robot by Janet Asimov (although often credited to her husband Isaac). The you have HAL from the 2001 series (books and movies) and on and on.


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