Follow TV Tropes


Tinman Typist

Go To
When developers won't bother to do it right as long as the end user can live with it.

"You would think that the marriage of biology and machinery would make it possible to do those things without lifting a finger. But instead, we see a drone amble over to a pylon, and do precisely that — lift a finger. It presses a single button, then wanders off to push another button. So much for Borg efficiency."

You see this all the time; robots (usually the Robot Buddy) or cyborgs using controls just like people do. That is; hitting buttons.

This leaves out the more interesting and probably easier path of forming some kind of short-range connection via cable or radio and just thinking at the computer in question. After all, Everything Is Online, right?

Possibly the writer is trying to hold back on clues that the character is a robot or perhaps the character is meant to be hiding the fact from other characters. After all how many people do you see with cables or wires sticking out of their ear? Maybe it's an aversion of Plug 'n' Play Technology, if the robots are using a system designed for humans.

In visual media, it's most likely a case of Rule of Perception and the desire to have something actually happen on-screen. As thrilling as it might be to watch a robot send a wireless signal to a nearby computer, it wouldn't be very clear what it was accomplishing by doing so.

Naturally, a robot using a keyboard is almost guaranteed to be superhumanly proficient at Rapid-Fire Typing.

Contrast Brain–Computer Interface, Electronic Telepathy.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Something similar in the Ghost in the Shell film: There are at least two scenes in which we see cybernetically-enhanced individuals extend their fingers into some highly dexterous tentacle-things which they then use to type on keyboards. While it is established that people in the GitS 'verse can connect their minds directly, doing it that way opens up the user to mind-hacking.
    • Dr. Willis, a brown-haired suit-wearing fellow and an expert in AI, hooked himself up to a computer with a cable to the neck port and then started typing with the same kind of fingers the secretaries had. No benefit was obvious on screen.
      • One still could do it offline, then let it be sent without real time end-to-end connections. Like some actual proxies do.
      • Not to mention that the above example may still apply even then; the same relative effect of a firewall can be had by requiring manual entry of some commands, especially if the neck port is set up to be a futuristic version of a mute terminal—think a computer with no keyboard or mouse hooked up.
    • The manga explicitly states in a footnote that some people don't have cyberbrains because they're vulnerable to hacking, but replace their hands with cybernetics so they can compete with those who have them.
  • Kamen no Maid Guy actually had Kogarashi with a cable sticking out of one ear to avert this.
  • Chachamaru from Mahou Sensei Negima! has a few types of cords embedded in her finger for just this purpose. Never seen typing once.
  • Chobits had Persocoms typing.
    • Of course, Persocom behavior is more likely to be based on "looking cute" or at least "staying on the right side of the Uncanny Valley" than pure efficiency. One character has his laptop Persocom (a tiny robot) write some information with a pencil; when Hideki asks if she has to, he responds that no, he could hook her to the printer, but it's cute to see her use a pencil taller than she is.
  • Yuki Nagato from Haruhi Suzumiya prefers to simply type on her keyboard, despite the fact that she's a data-based alien lifeform and could literally just talk to the computer and get it to do what she wanted. In this case, it's justified, as Kyon asked her not to cheat by using her data manipulation abilities. And as we know, Yuki always listens to Kyon.
    • What makes Yuki an interesting example is she didn't know how to type when first presented with the laptop. As the week progresses, she goes from slowly typing with one finger to breezily touch-typing to blurringly fast typing that is just barely within the bounds of human capability.
    • There's also the fact she shouldn't be freaking out the natives, especially not to tip off Haruhi about aliens being real. As a result she probably has to do a lot of redundant tasks just to appear human. This is more evident in her apartment, where it seems like only the absolute basic necessities are there, and only because she had a guest. Otherwise it's just a place for her to disappear to after school.

    Comic Books 
  • Used but averted in the Devil's Due G.I. Joe vs. The Transformers. Optimus Prime is able to hack Cobra's communications system just from being plugged in, but when Wheeljack sees the signal on the Joe's computer, he extends a bunch of mini-fingers to use their computer to trace it back. Possibly justified in Wheeljack's case as he didn't have too much time to find a compatible port and just jacking into a system watched over by armed soldiers is kinda rude.
  • The first appearance of the Sentinels in X-Men has them operating mechanical gunnery platforms with sized-up versions of human controls. Particularly egregious, as clearly these mechanisms have been specifically designed for use by giant robots.

  • WALL•E:
    • WALL•E does this when he's trying to stop his runaway escape pod, especially slamming the Big Red Button. Justified because WALL•E does not have a clue about what he's doing, and is clearly just smacking the panel at random hoping one thing or another will save him.
    • Played straight for the robots on the ship: despite in some cases being literally built into the walls, they still type on control panels.
    • This seems to be the sole (intended) purpose of AUTO. An explanation is that the builders of the ark ships may have wanted to make sure the captain knows what AUTO is doing. It also allows the current captain of the Axiom to physically wrassle with AUTO.
    • Especially awkward is EVE's shuttle, which extends down a container capsule, then extends an arm that removes EVE's pod from the capsule, then brings out an extremely complex, bulky, robotic finger whose only purpose is to enter the access code that opens the pod and releases her.
    • The same film features another robot, the appropriately named TYP-E, whose job seems to be typing on a keyboard. Using hunt-and-peck.
  • In the sci-fi horror movie Virus, the title monstrosity uses a computer to issue commands, despite being an energy being that control electronics by possessing them.
  • In Alien: Resurrection, one of the crew members of Betty is an undercover android who uses regular interfaces on the computers. At least until The Reveal. Justified because, being a fugitive, of a sort, they "burned [their] modem" and thus their ability to wirelessly connect with machines.
  • In the original Star Wars trilogy, R2-D2 'talks' to various computers and electronic devices via his little hook-ups, but C-3P0 occasionally uses buttons and controls like a human, even flying the ship in Episode 3. Interfacing ability apparently depends on the type of robot.
    • In another variation of the trope, the combat droids relay orders and communicate with each other verbally. A possible explanation is that they're built to be inaccessible over networks to prevent hacking.
  • The robot courtesan that Yondu sleeps with in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, switches herself off afterwards by pressing a button on the side of her head.

  • In Isaac Asimov's The Caves of Steel, a character brings up the question of why robots always seem to be built as humanoids; part of the given answer was that when designing a general-purpose machine, it was simplest to have it use tools and control mechanisms made for human use.
  • Averted through about half of Heart of Steel wherein cyborg Alistair Mechanus uses his mental connection to the network of his island lair to great effect. When he loses his network connection, however, he is forced to resort to manual data entry.

    Live Action TV 
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • Data is trying to be human and can already type much faster than the typical human so he likely doesn't use his capacity for an Unusual User Interface to link with the ship... although he did use it at least once.
    • Averted in early appearances of the Borg on Star Trek: The Next Generation, where drones accessed computers by jamming probes into them or by wireless voodoo (this was the late 80s/early 90s, it was voodoo). In "The Best of Both Worlds," Locutus is shown just looking at a viewer and it shows him what he wants to see. Possibly symptomatic of Villain Decay, later Voyager episodes showed Borg manipulating input devices.
  • Voyager, the Doctor is constantly talking to the computer or pressing buttons. Justified in that an emergency replacement doctor might well be designed not to directly interface with the main computer so that he remains fully functional in situations where the main computer is offline. Also, he does want to be a Real Boy.
  • Rommie on Andromeda, which can be maddening since Rommie is the ship. The depiction of the levels of interconnectivity has varied at different times, and she has always been depicted as a different "consciousness" than the main computer so it may be justified. However you might still expect that an android specifically designed (by Harper) for the ship should be able to connect up in other ways. On the other hand, android Rommie may prefer to act in a more human manner. On at least one occasion android Rommie got into an argument with hologram-Rommie (which generally acted more "human" for interaction with the crew) and Andromeda the ship (which was generally the most computer-like of her incarnations), with Rommie deciding to act like a human would in the situation they were in, versus the hesitancy of hologram-Rommie, versus the full-blown "that isn't logical" of Andromeda. It wouldn't be out of character for her to refuse to use connections that the rest of the crew couldn't.
  • Marvin on The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
    • Marvin sometimes uses vocal commands. In the TV version he opens the black spaceship's airlock by saying "Abracadiodularservosystems". It would be hard to judge whether he would find a plug in or voice control easier. He'd certainly be depressed by either option.
    • In the novels, on the one occasion he directly interfaced with another AI it was Driven to Suicide, so it's probably justified.
  • Averted in Battlestar Galactica (2003), when Athena wires directly into the ship to stop the virus...which raises the question of how the hell the Cylons are identical to humans if they have COMPUTER PARTS INSIDE THEIR ARMS!
    • The Cylons sometimes choose to play this straight, but usually in situations when they're pretending to be human, such as the computers in the hospital on Caprica where Simon held Starbuck.
    • Similarly averted by the control mechanisms of Cylon baseships, which are neural links created by sticking your hand in goo. Humans are never shown doing this, implying that it (like the wire-in-the-arm above) is a unique aspect of Cylon physiology. Presumably they have very unusual control over the electrical pulses of their nervous system.
  • Alpha 5 of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers
  • In Stargate Atlantis, a race of machines (the Asurans) are trying to emulate the Ancients and so operate a lot of their technology by hand. While functionally similar to Milky Way's Replicators, they prefer to build things the way humanoids do instead of rapidly composing them of individual Asuran parts.
  • In The Orville, Isaac is a member of an artificial robot species. However, he operates his console exactly the same as any organic member, even though he's demonstrated the ability to both interface with the ship's computer wirelessly and to extend tendrils from his hands for a more direct connection. Presumably, having been assigned by his people to observe and study humans, he mimics them intentionally.

    Video Games 
  • Secundo the Projected Man in Beyond Good & Evil types (Hard Light?) at a computer control panel near the end of the game. He does seem to do just a bit more than this, though, since he manages to somehow transform the Robo Speak-ing computer to a Female Computer.
  • Robo from Chrono Trigger does this frequently. Justified in that the consoles he uses were formerly human-run, and we don't see any evidence in the concept art that he could hook up. Technology in their 2000 AD doesn't appear to have gotten that far.
  • In Mass Effect 2, the AI EDI literally becomes the Normandy, with full control over all of its systems. Despite that, when she gains control of a robot body, her robot body will sit in the cockpit and use the controls there similarly to every other crewmember, even though she has absolutely no reason to do so. Possibly she's doing other things that she can't do even with control over the Normandy's internal systems, or maybe she just wishes to appear more human to the rest of the crew.
    • EDI lampshades this when she remarks that members of the crew will go to her android when they want to talk with her, even though they can talk to her anywhere on the ship. She decides to actively support the idea that she's a fellow crewmember by having the android act as human as possible, such as standing up and facing Shepard when they have a conversation even though she has no reason to.
  • In a codec conversation in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Bladewolf explains to Raiden why he can't just plug into a computer: his AI is neuro-optical, structured differently from Von Neumann computer architecture, and runs on different protocols.
  • The Engi from FTL: Faster Than Light interact with systems by typing on terminals, despite being walking clusters of nanomachines who supposedly can assume many shapes (such as spaceships, which the other Engi can talk to through, surprise, terminals). Similar deal with the Lanius, who can meld with the systems to fix them yet still interact with them via typing on terminals.
  • The Apollo cyber in Empire Earth has a keyboard-like console as part of its design, while the Hades has a keyboard on its arm and uses its other hand to input commands.

    Western Animation 
  • T-AI in Transformers: Robots in Disguise, made all the more inexplicable by the fact that she's actually a hologram generated by the very computer she's operating.
  • More generally, the original Transformers use manual controls for everything, up to and including transforming a city into a fortress in the movie. And almost none of them seemed to have built-in radios.
    • This continues long past G1, and likely occurs in some form in every Transformers series, from Beast Wars to Prime
    • The GoBots avert this, at least in regard to weapons. People have made fun of them for their fist blasters, but it does arguably make more sense than carrying guns.
  • Averted in The Zeta Project. Zee has a data spike which he can insert into any number of computer systems for a direct connection.
  • In the Justice League episode "Twilight" not only does Brainiac use a keypad, he uses a keypad that's built into his own body!
  • The Jetsons had a robots that had to type things into themselves.
  • Avengers, Assemble!: In the episode 'Dehulked' features a villain using miniature fingers to type justified in that he was wearing a large-ish Power Armor at the time.

    Real Life 
  • Back when printers were still new technology and therefore very expensive, a device was created that fit over the keyboard of an electric typewriter, and typed computer output.
    • For sound instead of letters: the first dial-up modems (which lets a computer talk to another through the telephone network) didn't connect to a phone line and send audio signals directly. Instead, they used acoustic couplers - a device to turn the audio signals into sound and send it through a telephone handset. This was Enforced by laws that gave the telephone company total control over what can be connected to a phone line.
  • DARPA is funding research into disaster-relief robots that use the tools they're likely to find in the environment, such as cars, stairs, and hand tools. These are surprisingly difficult tasks for real-life robots.
  • Multiple robot bands, instead of generating music electronically, use pistons and hydraulics to play real instruments, albeit ones custom-built to their specifications.
  • One day there was a problem at an office: The key-card reader on the outside of the building was broken. No-one could get in, but anyone on the inside could open the door by pressing a button. All you need is a button-pressing robot.