As 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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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 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
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)
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.
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.