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Ridiculously Human Robots / Literature

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  • Karel Capek's play, R.U.R. (which coined the very term "robot") probably created this trope. Ironically, the "robots" in the play are not truly robots in the way modern culture views them. Modern science would likely call them biological robots or Artificial Humans. That being said, the robots are mass-produced with every piece built and put together like a car on a factory line. At one point the characters are discussing how human the robots are:
    HELENA: Doctor, has Radius a soul?
    DR. GALL: I don't know. He's got something nasty.
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, there is the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation's "Genuine People Personalities" feature.
    • The elevator which refuses to take Zaphod Beeblebrox in the direction he wants to go because it's afraid really is an example of this trope. There is no reason why anyone would need an intelligent elevator, and all it does is make the whole thing a lot less efficient.
    • The Heart of Gold's doors are a good (or bad, depending on perspective) example of this. Of note is that this is most frequently criticized by Marvin, himself a perfect example of this trope; he doesn't like the one they gave him, so there's no unintentional irony/hypocrisy on his part.
    • Marvin is mostly dissatisfied with the GPP feature due to the fact that in his role and the way he is put to use on the Heart of Gold he is extremely subchallenged which causes him severe depression. The real problem is that his IQ is way too high for him to ever be challenged, so they really should just make stupider robots.
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    • The short story "Young Zaphod Plays It Safe" argues that Ridiculously Human Robots would be incredibly dangerous. The Sirius corporation's "Designer People" product were robots that were sort of super-sociopaths—some of them were built to look like people, and unlike most Genuine People Personalities they could act totally convincing if they wanted, but they lack certain normal thought processes of natural organisms like consciences or even sanity. One of them is described as being as dangerous as planet-killing weapons of mass destruction. In some editions of the story, its name is revealed as Reagan.
  • Doubly parodied and lampshaded in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, where an Electric Monk from an alien planet finds itself on Earth. Physically, it resembles a human being so closely that no one catches on that it's a robot ... even though, on its planet of origin, it was given such ridiculous features as two legs, two arms, and a single nose so it couldn't possibly be mistaken for a person. Mentally, it had been designed with a human-like ability to believe things — even quite ridiculous or self-contradictory things — which is something nobody's figured out how we do, let alone how to make a machine do it. The Electric Monk was given this ability so that it could listen to door-to-door evangelists in its owners' stead.
  • Isaac Asimov: Dr Asimov often averted this trope quite harshly, preferring to think of robots as tools rather than people. He only imagined robots being roughly humanoid when they needed to be able to perform tasks which human tools for already existed and it wouldn't make sense to replace every piece of equipment when one robot could be made to use them. They were always built to the job, and sometimes that job made for very unusual designs instead.
    • "The Bicentennial Man": Andrew learned enough about robotics and biology to make himself a Ridiculously Human Robot. Over the course of two centuries, he started to make artwork, wear clothes, modify himself to be more human ... even to the point of choosing to become mortal and die (this would break the Third Law of Robotics, but the eponymous character would rather die with his dreams intact than live without hope).
    • ''The Caves of Steel: R(obot) Daneel Olivaw is assisting Detective Baley solve a recent murder mystery. R. Daneel is a new type of robot (designed by the murder victim no less) which is externally indistinguishable from a human.
    • "Evidence": Stephen Byerley's political opponent started a rumor that Byerley was a robot... and though Byerley denied it, he also declined to be X-rayed to prove his humanity. He eventually convinced people that he was human by punching out a heckler, an act clearly impossible for a robot under the First Law unless said heckler was another apparently-human robot constructed for the occasion.
    • Forward the Foundation: R(obot) Dors Venabili and R(obot) Daneel Olivaw are both humaniform robots designed to appear perfectly human. However, a political opponent of Daneel publicly decried him as a robot. Dors and Hari Seldon teach Daneel how to laugh realistically so that he can publicly laugh off such accusations as ridiculous, thereby discrediting the activist. Strangely, Dors was built by Daneel, yet she can smile and laugh, and he can't.
    • "Lets Get Together": Eleven humaniform robots are constructed, each a copy of a scientist.
    • The Naked Sun: R(obot) Daneel Olivaw is assisting Detective Baley solve a recent murder mystery, and despite the Solarians' expertise with robots, is able to conceal his robotic nature completely.
    • Prelude to Foundation: R(obot) Dors Venabili, a female humaniform robot designed by R. Daneel (an old humaniform robot) to become Hari Seldon's protector and companion. Not only is Dors fully functional, but she eventually develops genuine love for Seldon and actually violates the First Law to protect him.
    • Robots and Empire: R(obot) Daneel Olivaw, a humaniform robot introduced in previous novels.
    • The Robots of Dawn:
      • R(obot) Daneel Olivaw is humanoid in appearance and somewhat in behavior, but unlike on Earth or on Solaria, where such a robot would be unimaginable, the Aurorans are not fooled in the least.
      • R(obot) Jander Panell, whose "murder" is the subject of the book's mystery. We also learn that Jander (and, presumably by extension, Daneel) is "fully functioning".
    • "Satisfaction Guaranteed": Isaac Asimov's first use of human-looking robots is the TN-3 model, "Tony". Ultimately, the idea of humaniform robots is rejected by Dr Susan Calvin, because Tony was so humanlike that The Protagonist became infatuated with him. The company does not want their robots having sex with their customers, so future TN models will be made less anthropomorphic.
    • "The Tercentenary Incident": The human President of the United States was disintegrated, and replaced with his robotic double, who was originally meant to just be a body double for him at formal events. It's implied that the robot did a much better job of being President than the human ever could have.
  • This trope is averted in Robert L. Forward's Flight of the Dragonfly. The computers are programmed to seem human, but are clearly not. In one case, a computer refuses to waste the crew's air, even though they will die if it doesn't, but a simple order to override is all that is needed to make it follow through. Later, when a computer is destroyed and one crew member is emotional about it, another computer breaks the emotional attachment with a carefully designed reminder that "After all, we are just computers."
  • In Susan Swan's short short "The Man Doll", a cybernetic engineer builds an android lover as a gift for a friend, however the android's programmed need to serve the interests of those he emotionally bonds with ultimately leads him to abandon his owners and pioneer a political movement calling for the emancipation of other androids like himself whose basic functions require the existence of emotional capacities.
  • Robert A. Heinlein:
    • In Time Enough for Love and the later stories in the loose "series" that follows, computers either are emotionless machines, or they learn to be human from close interactions with humans. In the second case, they learn to be self-aware emotional beings from watching us, and as a result act pretty much like we do.
    • In The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, a computer gains sentience and learns to be human over the course of the book. At the start, it's, at best, a petulant child.
  • In the classic "Helen O'Loy", by Lester del Rey, this trope was justified. The titular character was created to win a bet between an endocrinologist and a roboticist as to whether a robot could be made to act like a real woman. The endocrinologist insisted no robot could duplicate the complex biological system that created emotions, the roboticist insisted it could. The roboticist won, when the endocrinologist not only had to admit that she had human-like emotions, but eventually married her.
  • Fred Saberhagen's Berserker series averts this trope. Because the eponymous robots are out to kill everyone, nobody wants a human-like robot around. Furthermore, the robots that people do build will remind the people around them that they have no emotions, if necessary. Most importantly, it's the berserkers' utter lack of humanity that makes them so scary.
  • Justified in Charles Stross' Saturn's Children. The (extinct) "Creators" never figured out how to program self-aware AIs from scratch. Instead they just copied the way human brains work. And then you find out how they did it...
  • Also justified in Mind Scan, by Robert J. Sawyer, in which the androids have uploaded human consciousness (mind scans of the title) so their personalities are those of the original human. The book revolves over whether they're "really" human, persons with legal rights, and have "souls" or not.
  • Legends of Dune trilogy:
    • Erasmus wasn't designed to be intelligent (although does look at least vaguely like a human—two arms, two legs, etc.) but ends up being far more so than any other robot, and this feat can't be replicated.
    • Seurat, Vorian Atreides's co-pilot, also exhibits vaguely human-like behavior and eventually learns treachery. These are the only independent robots in the books, although the reprogrammed combat mek Chirox also eventually learned to display several human qualities such as regret, pride, and self-sacrifice. Omnius himself feels anger and ambition.
  • Justified in Joel Shepherd's Cassandra Kresnov series. The title character is an improved version of previous androids who made good foot soldiers but not great leaders. She was given enhanced intelligence, emotions, and lateral thinking ability in order to outsmart the other side in an interplanetary war. She was even given enhanced attractiveness and an increased libido to help her relate to humans better and form interpersonal relationships. However, although she made an excellent soldier and commander, she was intelligent and independent enough to rebel against her creators and escape in order to have a life as an ordinary human.
  • Keith Laumer's Bolo combat units don't look even remotely human — they're tanks the size of large buildings — but their personalities:
    "What made you risk everything on a hopeless attack? Why did you do it?"
    "For the honor of the regiment."
    A Mark XXXI Combat Unit is the finest fighting machine the ancient wars of the Galaxy have ever known. I am not easily neutralized. But I wish that my Commander's voice were with me...
  • The lead protagonist of David Weber's Safehold series is a Personlity-Integrated Cybernetic Avatar, a robot with the personality of a woman named Nimue Alban downloaded into it. Nimue is fully aware of this from the get-go, and in fact wrestles on and off throughout the books with just where the line between "human" and "robot" lies with her.
  • Robert A. Heinlein examines this trope in Friday. A conversation about genetically engineered Artificial Humans and "Living Artifacts" (artificial non-human lifeforms) being used as airline pilots brings up the point that a non-human artificial pilot, organic or AI, might go suicidally or homicidally insane because of its lack of ties to a human world it can never belong to. Artificial Humans like the titular Friday have to face Fantastic Racism and alienation issues, but are able to pass as human. With luck, they can even possibly find acceptance in human society without hiding what they are.
  • In the Culture of Iain M. Banks, the Minds certainly qualify. All civilizations are obliged to build tendencies into AIs, because "perfect [unconstrained] AIs always Sublime," so presumably the Culture makes AIs which are naturally going to like its members and want to help them. Still, they are unfathomably mighty intellects, so there's always the suspicion in the Culture that the ridiculously human-like part of them is just the tip of the iceberg.
  • Skinned does this, although with a thoroughly justifiable reason. The robots are created for the sole purpose of replacing the deceased, and so are made not only to seem like humans but to be as absolutely identical to them as possible.
  • Justified in Rick Griffin's Argo, as the "humans" aren't supposed to know that they're not organic.
  • The automatons from The Infernal Devices—despite walking with a graceless gait, they can pass for normal humans well enough.
  • In the novel Valentina: Soul in Sapphire, by Joseph H. Delaney and Marc Stiegler, a computer virus designed with adaptive AI becomes sentient and self-aware.
  • Thanks to computer nerds finally understanding the concept of exchanging bananas for bananas, MARZENA can now introduce you the concept of the Glial-Net, an internet where domains are Self-Aware AIs capable of human intelligence. Life as a Glial Robot is described as being very similar to a human but with slightly graphically crappier vision and trapped in a neverending lucid dream (or nightmare). Contrast this with Soulless Neuro Robots like Sirana who can only copy behaviors, but can't replicate the human thought process or feel emotions. Neurobots can't simultaneously coordinate enough data to become conscious, a bird flapping a single wing will never fly.
  • The X-Wing Series introduces perhaps the most independent of droids, a 3PO unit called Squeaky. Squeaky managed to subvert its programming and steal a ship to lead an escape from the prison/spice mine planet Kessel. For his actions he was freed from any present and future ownership. By the time of the X-Wing series he has a highly developed personality that contrasts sharply with the standard demeanor of most 3PO units who are programmed to be courteous and polite to everyone. Squeaky routinely insults those around him and despite being originally a translator, has worked as a bartender and later as a quartermaster for the New Republic.
  • We Are Legion (We Are Bob): All replicants are copied from human minds, but the Bobs are the first ones to create a VR simulation for themselves, complete with a body. Living humans clearly find this easier to deal with.
  • Dragon of Worm, despite not having a physical body until late in the story, is advanced enough to have a trigger event and gain superpowers, something only humans should be able to do. She loves, hates, and has all the emotions of a real person... all while being, essentially, a not-evil Skynet.
  • In C.T. Phipps' series Agent G, this turns out to be basis for the Letters. Agent G and the other assassins were created by the government and cybernetically upgraded but look as well as act identical to humans. Indeed, they're unaware they're not human until the revelation at the end of the first book.
    • It also shows up in his Space Opera Lucifer's Star series, stated to be the future of the Agent G world by Word of God, where human-like robots called bioroids are a slave race. This is a highly controversial thing in-universe and one of the main characters is an escaped Sex Slave.
  • Zig-zagged in The Murderbot Diaries. High-intelligence AIs are shaped by their personal experiences, which tend to involve being immersed in very specific fields of work and neural links to various data feeds, but can respond quite organically to those experiences. Murderbot itself is hilariously socially awkward, obsessed with trashy media serials, and prone to extremely deadpan snark in its internal monologue. As for others...
    Are all constructs so illogical? said the asshole Research Transport with the immense processing capability whose metaphorical hand I had had to hold because it had become emotionally compromised by a fictional media serial.
  • In Five Nights at Freddy's: The Fourth Closet : Charlie is revealed to be this. She had four bodies, one for each stage of her life, with her memories being transfered to the next one. Needless to say, it was quite shocking.
  • In The Immortal Journey, Carol is a gynoid with an illegal, super-advanced AI, programmed with the personality of her creator, Nicole Sullivan. While she considers it her mission to protect Nicole's brother Scott, she still has enough emotions and free will to frequently act against his opinions and get irritated when he insults her. When Scott attempts suicide near the end, he for the first time thinks of Carol as a person and a friend rather than a mere bodyguard robot. Nevertheless, she also often displays the hyper-rational attitude and probability calculus you would expect from an artificial being.
  • The short story "Last Rites" by Charles Beaumont features a dying man who it turns out is an android who escaped from his creators, developed an identity for himself, and has found God, who he believes has breathed a soul into him. He's only "dying" insofar as his mechanical internal components are starting to shut down, and he has chosen not to have himself repaired because he wants to die. He believes that dying the way ordinary humans do instead of simply getting himself repaired will make him more like them, and wants the priest sitting at his deathbed to give him the last rites so he can go to heaven. The priest is conflicted, but ultimately grants his request because they've been friends for several years.


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