Essential Features for Androids

In From the Vault by John Tebbutt

The ability to dream of electric sheep is optional

Androids (that is, robots sophisticated enough to pass as human) have been in the movies since the silent era. Care must be taken in choosing what sort of built-in features to include in a movie android. For example, all androids should possess superhuman strength, speed and endurance. On the other hand, an android should never, ever attempt to rap.

The following is a general guideline for designing movie androids, although I daresay the advice holds for real-life androids as well. (Any engineering geniuses reading this?) Most of this stuff is common sense, but it could mean the difference between your creation looking like an incredible, bulletdodging, train-outrunning machine, or just some awkward guy who walks woodenly and never blinks.

  • Instead of glowing eyes, give your android a removable face. Glowing red eyes used to look ominous and cool, but time and repetition has aged this particular little parlour trick quite poorly; after all, half of the family snapshots in your photo album or Facebook gallery have glowing red eyes. Much, much cooler is a face that snaps off like a Tupperware lid à la Westworld (1973), revealing a mass of wiring and circuitry, all whirring and blinking. From time to time, your android is going to need to prove to somebody that it’s a machine, and the good old-fashioned removable face is still the best option. Not only does it give great opportunities to freak people the hell out, but you can build a bunch of spare faces that look like other people in the neighbourhood, so your android can impersonate them. (“My son can’t come to school today. He’s racing in the Indianapolis 500. Beep. Whirr.”)
    One notable compromise that worked well is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s unstoppable cyborg assassin from The Terminator (1984). He had glowing eyes and a removable face, but you could only see the glowing eyes after the face came off. In bloody chunks. This is deemed sufficiently bad-ass for our purposes.
  • Instead of human emotions, give your android working genitals. Programming genuine human emotions into your creation might sound like a great idea, but it always leads to tragedy. Perhaps your android will pick up something approximating human emotions later in life, either due to a freak occurrence in its nanocircuitry, centuries of isolation or the unexpected result of getting struck by lightning. That’s fine — if any of that happens, it’s not your fault. However, if you deliberately program emotions into your robot, the thing will either turn evil or get its heart broken when all of the humans it ever loved grow old and die, leaving it alone and immortal. That’s just cruel. Still, there’s no reason why your android shouldn’t be able to experience sex — purely for research purposes, of course. Go ahead and let your android go out cruising on a Saturday night. A bunch of human women will get to have sex with an attentive, high-performance, disease-free lover, and your android will get to make amused comments on the peculiarities of human interaction later on in the lab. If any of his dates get too clingy, he can always scare them off with his removable face.
  • Never install wheels in an android. Just make it run really, really fast. I shouldn’t even have to explain this one. An android that can run at 200 km/h looks awesome, while an android attaining the same speed on wheels looks like a smart car on a bicycle.
  • An android does not need built-in guns, lasers or rocket launchers. If your creation feels the need to wreak havoc, just let it take weapons away from the police, SWAT teams or National Guardsmen that try to stop its rampage. Much cooler.
    If you must install a weapon in an android’s body, make it a boxing glove on a spring. It’s a good nonlethal way to humiliate an opponent, and it’s also funny as hell.
  • An android should always, always, always have a head and limbs that can rotate 360 degrees. Sure, it’s not realistically “human,” but if your creation can’t do a few impossible things, what’s the point? Machine parts can pivot, so give your android the ability to turn his head around like an owl and have conversations with people directly behind him. (This is handy for scaring off muggers.) The added range of motion will allow your creation to escape from a full nelson, and make it easier for the unit to self-repair bullet holes in hard-to-reach places. As a bonus, with a high enough rotation speed, he’ll be able to drill a hole in the wall with his hand. Whirrrrr!