May the fourth be with: We take a look at our favourite sci-fi robots and ask, is Hollywood to blame for irrational ‘Robophobia’?

Posted: 3 May 2017 | By Darcie Thompson-Fields

With tomorrow being May 4th, a date considered by many as an unofficial Star Wars day, becausee May 4th sounds closely like “May the force”, arguably the most famous line of the franchise, we decided to take a look at some of Hollywood’s favourite robots, and loosely examine if there a connection towards the way people view AI. Of course, Star Wars is famous for its cute trashcan R2D2 and humanoid C3-PO, which are about as menacing as a WALL-E. But there are plenty others.

According to a survey, more than half of Britons (58pc) are living in fear of AI and robots – or to give it its technical name, ‘Robophobia’.

The survey, commissioned by Sky Atlantic, also revealed that a whopping 41 per cent believe that robots will actually destroy humanity altogether.

Definition:Robophobia is an anxiety disorder in which the sufferer has an irrational fear of robots, drones, robot-like mechanics or artificial intelligence’.

The question, which wasn’t answered however, is why such an irrational fear exists? After all, to date there is very little real life evidence to back up such anxieties.

Author Michael Garwood 

In fact, robots are only technically responsible for only two deaths in the past 30 years – neither of which were directly associated with machine intelligence.

Robert Williams, a worker at a Ford Motor Company factory in Flat Rock, Michigan, holds his place in history as the first person, after accidentally being hit by an industrial robot arm on January 25, 1979. The family successfully sued for $15 million.

The second was Kenji Urada, a maintenance engineer at a Kawasaki Heavy Industries plant, who was killed in 1981 while working on a broken robot. The report stated he failed to turn it off completely, resulting in the robot pushing him into a grinding machine with its hydraulic arm. Ouch!

But is this the reason to fear robots? Had you even heard of the above names or knew of the deaths until now? Some point to a lack of understanding on the subject – something I can testify to.

Until recently, I had a fear around spiders. But half an hour of speaking to the owner of a local reptile shop that sold them, he helped me separate fact from the fiction and I held a tarantula almost as big as my hand with minimal anxiety. My reasoning for fearing spiders? The 1990 movie Arachnophobia

So could Hollywood be to blame?

In a recent conversation around AI with technology enthusiast, author and Gadget Show host Jason Bradbury; he too suggested the best blueprint for the future is by looking at what’s appeared on the big screen.

So, for a bit of fun, Access Ai takes a look through the movie archives to closely examine some of the most famous sci-fi characters to feature on the big screen to try and establish an answer. Warning Spoilers

I would love to get your thoughts – plus any Robots characters you feel should have made the list and why.

Movie: Star Wars

Character: C3PO

Arguably one of the most iconic humanoid (cyborg) robots in movie history is C3PO. According to his official profile, ‘Threepio’ was built by Jedi Anakin Skywalker as translator and is fluent in more than seven million forms of communications. Despite being involved in many a galactic battle – he was typically seen complaining or surrendering to avoid conflict or harm. In fact, the only species to fear him in the franchise to date were those Ewoks in Return of the Jedi believing him to be “some kind of god.”

Threat to humanity: 0/5


Movie: The Terminator (1984)

Character: T-800 Model 101

Like C3PO, The Terminator is one of the best known – and arguably feared autonomous robots in movie history. Unlike the shiny metallic 3PO however, the T-800, an assassin from the future, is coated with human like living tissue over its metal endoskeleton. In his first outing he killed 26 people before himself being eventually terminated at the hands of his target Sarah Connor.

Threat to humanity: 4.5/5


Movie: Flight of the Navigator (1986)

Character: Trimaxion Drone Ship

A classic sci-fi movie, which sees a grumpy hormonal 12 year old (David) slip and fall down a ravine on route to picking up his “butt-face” younger brother, knocking himself unconscious. Unbeknown to him, he was immediately kidnapped by an extra-terrestrial named Trimaxion Drone Ship (Max) and taken to a planet called Phaelon – 560 light years away for tests. On awaking, eight years have passed, but whilst he himself hasn’t aged, everything around him has. In typical Disney fashion, the film turns into a feel good adventure with a happy ending.

Threat to humanity: 3/5 (invisible ship and kidnapping capabilities can’t be ignored)

Movie: I, Robot (2004)

Character: Sonny

Starring Will Smith I, Robot is set in 2025 in a world in which robots have become part of everyday life, working in harmony with humans. However, things turn bad when a batch of NS5 robots start breaking their own laws:

‘A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.’

With the help of Sonny, a ‘good’ NS5, order is eventually restored, albeit 23 human lives fewer.

Threat to humanity: 4/5 (Without Sonny, the robots would have certainly taken over)

Movie: Clash of the Titans (1981)

Character: Bubo

Whilst the animation may have been appalling, it’s hard not to have fallen in love with Bubo the clumsy AI robot magic owl. Similar to Star Wars characters R2D2 and BB8, Bubo communicates to others through a mix of bleeping noises which, curiously, the protagonist Perseus – whom Bobo joins to save Princess Andromeda, can understand. A memorable character, but one which would fill our subconscious with fear?

Threat to humanity: 0/5

Movie: Ex Machina (2015)

Character: Ava

A dark, on edge movie set in a remote but modern mountain-side smart-home, which sees a young computer programmer called Caleb, selected to participate in a ground-breaking experiment to evaluate the human qualities of a humanoid called Ava. In a classic Mannequin storyline, the programmer soon falls for the scheming aesthetically pleasing robot – with disastrous consequences. The final scenes, as she leaves the secure, prison like building for the first and last time – with her loves struck interviewer left tapped – was as brutal as it was frightening.

Threat to humanity: 5/5

Movie: WALL-E (2008)

Character: WALL-E

A classic animated picture from Pixar set on an abandoned rubbish filled planet earth in 2806. The adorable Wall-E, an animated cuter version of Johnny 5 (Short Circuit), is tasked with helping clean up the planet, spending his days scooping up and compressing waste. But this is not a rubbish movie. Wall-E soon falls in love with (as Pixar characters tend to always do) Eve – an AI spaceship whom together, embark on a journey of adventure which will eventually decided the fate of mankind. Needless to say, it’s a happy ending. The only fear from this example of AI is you may never stop crying.

Threat to humanity: 0/5

Movie: Tobor the Great (1954)

Character: Tobor

One for the teenagers. A classic black and white sci-fi film, which sees the creation of a robot called Tobor (have you tried spelling it backwards yet?) designed to travel in space rather than humans. A young boy ultimately befriends the robot, which ultimately attracts strong attention from evil foreign spies resulting in him later being kidnapped. Tobor, who curiously can’t speak but walks better than any robot built today, springs into action, breaking out of the laboratory in which he is housed and rescues the boy. The End.

Threat to humanity: 0 (only wants to do good, can’t speak, can hear him coming a mile off)

Movie: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Character: BB8

This small, but oddly adorable ball of spherical robot goodness is arguably the star of the recent reboot to the Star Wars franchise. As with the Star Wars original, BB8 is entrusted to safeguard and deliver a valuable piece of information on the whereabouts of Jedi Master Luke Skywalker to the rebellion (the good guys!). Other than that, his/her functionality appears to be limited – borderline pointless.

Threat to humanity: 0

Movie: Short Circuit (1986)

Character: Johnny 5

Another classic feel good 80’s movie who’s protagonist, Johnny 5 begins life as a government built deadly military weapon, running on caterpillars and armed with a deadly laser. However after being struck by lightning, Johnny 5 developed an irritating voice and becomes “alive” with no desire to kill, or “disassemble” anything or anyone and escaped. The film is a classic hunt and chase story, helped by his friend Stephanie. It ultimately ends with the bad guys thinking they’ve won when they actually haven’t.

Threat to humanity: 0 (as long as that laser remains an umbrella)

Movie: Robocop

Character: ED 209

Confession time. I watched this film when I was little more than 7-8 years old. Don’t judge my parents – they’re good people. The lure of good cops battling the bad guys and robots made it a must see. The plot was simple. Set in a crime ridden and broke Detroit (who knew?), a police officer called Alex Murphy is gunned down (the exploding hand scene still makes me wince) and later rebuilt into a half man, half robot super-cop. However, the scariest moments in this film had nothing to do with RoboCop himself. It was his eventual nemesis ED–209 who in a bodged demonstration of its abilities, malfunctions, killing an innocent and helpless man.

Threat to humanity: 4/5 (it would have scored 5 if it could walk down stairs)




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