My Top 10 Robots with Feelings

tinmanAs my blog’s name (Robo♥beat) would suggest, I’m a big fan of robots — especially when they have something akin to an emotional side. My interest probably started with the Tinman in The Wizard of Oz, who’s not quite a robot but definitely wants something beyond mechanical survival. Sometimes droids imply emotion without words, and they’re often driven by organic feelings and judgments, such as love or even prejudice.

Here’s a list of some of my favorite sci-fi robots with feelings, or something equivalent to them. I can think of several more worth mentioning — such as Clank from Ratchet and Clank and Sonny from I, Robot — but these are the bots, droids, and AI systems I know and love best.

10. Claptrap (Borderlands)

Claptrap

With his grating little voice and tendency to ramble, you’d think Claptrap would be annoying, but that’s all part of his charm. In the Borderlands games, the Claptraps are beloved for their friendliness, amazing humor, and crazed complaining. And really, who wouldn’t want to protect this boxy little guy when he’s having a bandit-induced panic attack?

9. DØg (Half-Life 2)

Dog and Alyx

DØg is one of my favorite video game pets of all time. In Half-Life 2, this gigantic robot puppy has undergone upgrades by Alyx to become a car-throwing death machine. But don’t worry – he’s on your side, and he likes to play fetch.

8. R2-D2 (Star Wars)

R2D2

Sure, I could have put C-3PO here, but R2-D2 is my favorite of the two Star Wars droids. When I used to babysit, kids always let me be the R2-D2 figure, because they know how deep my love for this little guy runs. And who wouldn’t like him? He’s makes adorable bleeps that convey a surprising amount of information – even emotion.

7. GLaDOS (Portal)

GLaDOS

At first nothing more than a hilarious, disembodied computer voice, GLaDOS soon becomes one of the most interesting villains in the video game world. She’s a unique artificial intelligence system with a rich backstory — and to make things weirder, she spends some time in Portal 2 as a potato. But even when she wants to kill playable character Chell, she brings an offbeat humor to the Portal games that keeps me coming back to play again.

6. Robbie (Robbie,” by Isaac Asimov)

Robbie

In a 1939 Asimov short story, Robbie the robot is a nursemaid to Gloria in the Weston family. She thinks of him as her best friend, which makes her mother worry about her socialization. When the family gets rid of Robbie, Gloria becomes depressed. But in a surprising twist, Mr. Weston whisks the family to the robot construction factory – you know, to show Gloria that robots are not real people – as a set-up for Gloria to be reunited with Robbie, who’s working there as an assembler. (Go, Dad!) Gloria rushes in front of a moving vehicle to her Robbie, inspiring the robot to spontaneously save her from death. Even Mrs. Weston is moved. Awwww.

5. HK-47 (Knights of the Old Republic)

HK-47

What can mere words say about such a kickass robot? I’d write a poem to HK-47 if I could. (Trust me, you don’t want to read my poetry.) As a misanthropic assassin droid who calls organics “meatbags,” I’d hate to meet him in real life. Nothing’s scarier than a droid that seems to enjoy the act of killing. But that’s also what makes him an extremely useful companion in the Knights of the Old Republic games. Seriously, I love that he adores blaster rifles, and every time he hates something, I love him even more.

4. EDI (Mass Effect)

EDI

EDI is the Enhanced Defense Intelligence system installed on the Normandy ship. At first, she’s represented by a holographic sphere — and most of the time, she’s just a disembodied voice. But in Mass Effect 3, she takes control of an android body and becomes part of playable character Commander Shepard’s shore party, too. Her most human trait is her curiosity, which leads her into a romantic relationship with the Normandy’s pilot, Joker. What I love most about EDI’s human relationships is that she analyzes her way through them — a very AI thing to do — yet they add real, emotional meaning to her life.

3. The Iron Giant

Iron Giant

After the Iron Giant crashes to Earth, nine-year-old Hogarth Hughes befriends it. The question is, is this Giant a programmed killing machine, unable to control its self-defense mechanisms, or can it be one of the good guys? Hogarth puts all his faith in the Iron Giant, believing everyone can choose his own path in life — and that means even a hulking metal robot that everyone fears can choose to be a hero.

2. Data (Star Trek: The Next Generation)

Data

I always have a soft spot for the intelligent outsider, and Data is exactly that. He is a sentient android, capable of quickly processing information and making calculations, but he always strives for human emotion, too. (One of my favorite moments is when he writes and recites an over-the-top ode to his cat, Spot.) As The Next Generation progresses, he becomes increasingly human – an interesting journey for such a nuanced android character.

1. WALL-E

WALL-E

WALL-E is a trash-collector robot that looks like a little tank with eyes and arms, but he has more heart than any other robot I’ve encountered in fiction. When he sees the robot EVE, it’s love at first sight. Even without speaking, WALL-E is able to convey his wide-eyed innocence, passion, and bravery, all in the name of love.

— Ashley

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15 thoughts on “My Top 10 Robots with Feelings”

  1. I love all your examples, I think the only one missing I can think of right now is Legion. Although it’s hard to tell exactly when he stops being a “legion” and starts being an “individual”, he’s singe-handedy responsible for turning what was once your primary enemy in the first game into a race of beings that you not only empathized with, but actively wanted to help! No easy feat.

    “Shepard-Commander. Does this unit have a soul?”

    1. Great choice! I was going to include Legion in this list, but I’d forgotten about EDI and wanted to include her instead. But yes, I love Legion. His loyalty and self-sacrifice — not to mention all that geth consensus stuff — are part of what inspired me to go with the Synthesis ending!

      1. I can just never bring myself to go with the Synthesis ending. It just seems like a cheat to me, a way to artificially bridge the biological and synthetic in a way that natural evolution in that cycle never intended. But I can understand why it would be the desirable “middle” choice, as it does nothing but help everyone. But it always felt wrong to me.

        Take for example the fact that, if you save both the Geth and Quarians, they start to work together to build a united Rannoch; with the Geth even uploading themselves into the suits of the Quarians. In my eyes that’s the true first step to synthesis, with biological and synthetic lifeforms sharing the same “body”. Ideally, they’d see the advantages of living together and over the generations begin to merge their life styles and lives together using cybernetics and other technology until eventually they were one, singular, race. The Qeth? Guarians? You get the idea…

        Eventually you’d arrive at synthesis naturally, without needing the intervention of an outside force. Sure it would only be for one species, but they’re the ones who warned it and worked for it. Forcing it on every life-from not only bypasses evolution, but dead-ends it to some degree. Anyway… just my 2 cents.

    2. Yeah, regarding the Synthesis ending… I can definitely see where you’re coming from. It did feel a lot like rewriting the geth at the end of ME2 — taking away free will, forcing a consensus. But in the end, I didn’t mind the idea of fast-forwarding evolution if it meant saving everyone.

      I think of the Synthesis ending as the most open-minded and forward-thinking, because it respects the synthetic life that Shepard has come to rely on and care about. Maybe it’s not exactly right for Shepard to force it on everyone, but in that moment, a decision has to be made. I imagined Shepard feeling some sadness at having to make that choice for everyone… but it was still the right decision. It changed the future for the better. And it was total self-sacrifice on Shepard’s part, compared to the other endings that have Shepard living on in some form or other (maybe, sort of).

      The other ending I really like is the Control ending. I almost went with that for my canon Shep, but I felt like it had more potential for corruption. Really, none of the endings felt quite right… but Synthesis is my favorite. What ending did you choose initially?

      1. I went with Control initially, and that’s been my cannon ending ever since. There is a sort of symmetry to it that I don’t think the others have, especially when you take into consideration the post-credits scene. The way I see it, the Mass Effect games are really just the story of “the Shepard”; a human that helped free the galaxy from a cycle of life and death. So the control ending, which converts the once unstoppable Reapers into servants of a synthetic copy of Shepard, is the ultimate expression of that. They are no longer Reapers but “Shepards” to watch over and protect the races of the galaxy as they grow and advance the way they were meant to. You get some of that theme in the Synthesis ending, but like I said before it always felt a bit like a cheat to me.

        I am a fan of the “shoot the kid in the face” ending though. As I like the idea of the NEXT cycle, with the information Liara left for them, finally overcoming the Reapers and freeing the galaxy. Really, any ending that lets things take their course naturally gets my thumbs up. Except the Destruction ending. No way am I killing off EDI or the Geth after all they’ve done to fight for their (and everyone else’s) freedom!

  2. I really love your list! My favorite robots from your list are definitely Claptrap, Edi, and Wall-E. Claptrap, though a little annoying at times, kind of gets you with how small and defenseless he is. You can’t stay mad at him and you want to help him. These are the best examples of robots who are capable of feeling and showing human emotion.

    1. Yes! That’s so true about Claptrap. He’s sometimes annoying but also adorable, and you can’t help but want to keep him safe. It’s always cool when the idea of a mechanical creature like Claptrap being destroyed makes you want to defend him… er, it. But really him. =)

  3. I still enjoy the collection of philosophical episodes about personal being in Next Gen. I think Data will always be near the top of my list for that reason. After that it’s probably someone from Asimov…maybe Daneel. Favorite video game robot? Robo from Chrono Trigger:)

    1. Nice choices. =) Ohhh Chrono Trigger, I will play that game soon! I’d also like to read more Asimov. Robbie is a favorite, but I know there are so many other robots in his works. Considering I love robots, it’s all the more reason to dig into his writing!

  4. Excellent post! I couldn’t agree more with pretty much all your choices! I’m also glad to see HK-47 on there! As you said, he’s pretty scary and perhaps not the first robot companion you’d necessarily choose if given the choice, but he’s wickedly funny and just a complete badass! Also, good old Claptrap! I felt so sorry for him throughout the whole of Borderlands too! 😀

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