Simanaitis Says

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SCI-FI AND REALITY have given us extremes of human/robotic interaction, everything from anthropomorphic constructs to idealized machines bearing no resemblance to humans. What do we prefer? A human-shaped C-3PO? A more mechanical R2-D2? Or a purely computerized HAL 9000?

British researchers have investigated our human preferences in this regard. Here today and tomorrow in Parts 1 and 2 are tidbits on robots loved and feared, and on this academic study.

The First Robots. Playwright Karel Čapeck introduced robots to the world in his 1920 play R.U.R. (Rossumovi universálni roboti); Czech: “Rossum’s Universal Robots.” The Czech word robota means “compulsory labor.”

An early production of R.U.R.

Perhaps as a theatrical convenience, Čapeck’s robots appeared as decidedly humanlike. The tale is a dark one, however, with robots storming their assembly factories and killing all but the chief engineer who devised them (and, thus, also works with his hands).

A dark tale indeed.

Star Wars Droids. C-3PO of Star Wars is an anthropomorphic descendent of robati, albeit a much more friendly one. His name stands for Cyborg 3 Protocol, in that he’s the third member of the Skywalker family.

C-3PO at right, with his pal R2-D2. Image from Star Wars.

R2-D2 gets his name from Second Generation Robotic Droid Series-2. He is less humanoid than C3-PO, though no less likable. The pair holds a record for appearances in the Star Wars saga: They’ve appeared in 10 of the 11 films to date.

HAL 9000. Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey offered the other extreme of robotic/human interaction: an idealized artificial intelligence devoid of humanoid pretenses. HAL gets his name from Heuristically Programmed ALgorithm.

Above, HAL’s closeup. Below, a replica of HAL 9000 on exhibit at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Science Center.

HAL is an impersonal red-orbed image and unemotional voice supporting the human crew. Until he seems to lose it. Ironically, the robot’s most humanoid moment is during his harrowing regressed disassembly: Part of his neural-network education was learning “Bicycle Built for Two.”

In summary, C-3PO and R2-D2 are humanoids; HAL 9000 is a machine. Which do we prefer?

Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll see what British researchers discovered.

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2020


  1. david Rees
    January 16, 2020

    HAL are also the letters preceding IBM

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