Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Robots & Writing Characters: Humanity Comes with Flaws

This weekend I went to see the film Christopher Nolan film Interstellar, starring Matthew McConaughey. The story takes place in the near future where a dying Earth plagued with crop-killing disease is slowly starving the human population to extinction, forcing McConaughey’s character to embark on a mission to find a new habitable planet in another solar system.

I won’t say much more about the film, but what I actually want to talk about is robots. Interstellar features several uniquely designed robots with artificial intelligence. These rectangular, monolithic entities stride around on transformable articulated legs, like giant dominoes, and can morph into other hinged, geometric shapes to complete certain tasks or make their way over rough terrain. Best of all, each one has its own name and customizable personality. Tars, the main robot companion on the interstellar mission, has a quirky gallows humor, and was, weirdly enough, one of the most human characters in the film.

In fiction, robots and androids have long been analogs to human life and creation. From Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein monster to the droids of Star Wars to the too-human replicants of Blade Runner, we seek betterment, perfection or some leap of evolution in our creations.

While I appreciate the more human-type robots like Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Data, or Alien’s creepily conniving Ash, I’m partial to the classic chrome-and-lights-type robots like the above mentioned Tars, WALL-E and R2-D2. For me, putting the best aspects of humanity into less human shells somehow gives these characters more depth; they know what they are capable of, know their limits, and they work within them to achieve heroic deeds.

Creating fictional characters is a bit like making a robot that way; to make them believable, they have to have flaws, limitations and rules that govern their behavior. They must also strive to better themselves, to reach a goal, to carry out their purpose. A robot or a character with no purpose, no specific job or function, is a sad one indeed. Just ask SpaceStation commander Chris Hadfield, who reassured a five-year-old that theVoyager space probe wouldn’t be sad or lonely exploring the farthest reaches ofspace.

Who are your favorite robot characters? Who are your least favorite? Comment below!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I always liked C3P0 and R2D2 in Star Wars. Did not like The Termnators.

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