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The Measure of a Robot

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With lovable brain-in-a-box robot Wall-E enchanting us in theaters, and hot-bod Cylons seducing us in Battlestar Galactica re-runs, it's clear that we've come a long way since the robot evil/human good days of Metropolis and HAL. Today's pop culture robots are all over the map when it comes to their good or evil natures - we practically need a chart to figure out which bots are nasty, which are friendly, and which are floating in an ambivalent in between. Just to help you figure it out, we've actually made that chart. We've plotted where 27 of the most intriguing bots of the past century fall using a Cartesian coordinate system to map where they fall on a scale of good to evil, and a scale of being humanoid-shaped to being AIs-in-a-box.

There's actually a pretty good range here, with bots falling all across the grid. It's interesting to note that there appear to be more evil box-shaped robots, and there's a pretty good clustering of bots who seem to be good and humanoid-shaped. Notably, there are two completely neutral bots who are box-shaped, but no neutral humanoid bots. And most of the evil humanoids are women, except the Original Terminator. (All but one of the good humanoids are male, as are all but one of the good boxes.)

Here's a quick rundown of the bots we included:

C3P0: Not a mean circuit in his system. But that metal body makes him not super high on the humanoid scale.


Lt. Cmdr. Data: Mostly good, but with a few quirks. Green skin makes him off-human.

Robby the Robot: He lives to please everyone, C3P0 style. The tire-shaped body pushes him very close to box-land.


David: This kidbot from the movie A.I. is as humanoid as you can get, though his terrible treatment at the hands of humans makes him less than good.

Gort: Kinda human-shaped. Sorta good?

RoboCop: Built like a human tank, nearing box-shape. Hard to be totally good when you've been programmed by an evil, union-busting corporation.


Crow T. Robot: Too capricious to be super good, and too goofy-looking to qualify as humanoid.

7 of 9: Humanoid except for those implants (I mean the ones in her brain). Not exactly a nice bot, though not evil either.


Marvin the Paranoid Android: Nearly box-shaped, and too annoyed to be good.

Iron Giant: Super-mega-good. Too giant to be humanoid.

R2D2: Postbox shaped. 100% good.

Wall-E: A box, but with limbs that give him a slight humanoid feel. Basically a good creature, but with a disobedient streak.


HARLIE: This AI from David Gerrold's novel When HARLIE Was One is pretty much an AI in a box. But he's naughty and does drugs.

Krell technology: Basically brain in a box. Entirely neutral - only manifests the subconscious desires of other creatures.


Eve: A sleeker version of R2D2. Not evil, but only good once she's overcome her programming.

WOPR: The computer from Wargames is entirely neutral. And he lives in a box, except for those missiles he can launch.


HAL: Lives in a box with a glowing red eye. He's only evil because evil humans have given him contradictory programming. But he does kill people, which puts him over into the evil category.

Proteus: He lives in a box and rapes Julie Christie in Demon Seed. I call that evil.


MCP: The Master Control Program from Tron lives in a box, where he can take humanoid form. He's totally evil and wants to enslave every other program in the system.

Daleks: They look like trash cans and want to exterminate. Evil.

Skynet: Total evil, totally living in a box. Connection? You be the judge.

Buffybot: Buffy the Vampire Slayer's evil mecha-twin isn't totally evil - she was just programmed that way.


Cylons: The skinjobs look human, but they can get pretty evil. Not totally evil, but most of the way there.

Cybermen: Sort of humanoid, and perhaps a bit too dorky to be totally evil.

Ro-Man: The creature from Robot Monster wears a diving bell on his head and a gorilla suit. This cuts down on the humanoid factor.


Original Terminator: Mostly human except for that metal skeleton. Evil except when reprogrammed.

Futura: The evil bot from Metropolis will stop at nothing to carry out the mad doctor's evil plans.


Amazing image by Stephanie Fox. Awesome robot research by Nivair Gabriel.