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What Is an Android?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 July 2014
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An android is a robot designed to look or behave like a human being. The resemblance to humans may be relatively mild or scrupulously life-like in appearance. Although androids have long been the province of science fiction, modern technology has allowed the development of some android robots for a variety of functions.

In terms of definition, an android differs from robots and cyborgs in both form and function. A cyborg is a human being with robotic body parts or mental components, typically found in science-fiction literature and film. Conversely, a robot is any guided machine that can perform tasks. Androids are not actually human, but are physically designed to resemble humans to some degree while having the controllable functions of a robot.

Androids are a relatively old concept, although there is little agreement about the first record of the idea. In the 15th century, Leonardo Da Vinci designed and possibly built a robot knight that could move its arms and legs. Some android enthusiasts reference an earlier mention of androids, dating back to the 13th century. Regardless of the origin, the concept of a human-like artificial intelligence has sparked the imaginations of inventors and fiction writers for several centuries.

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Famous fictional androids are quite varied in appearance and purpose. One common theme in science fiction is the idea of an android and overthrowing programming for good or ill. Famous fictional androids include Tik-Tok, from Frank Baum's Oz books, Robby the Robot, from the classic sci-fi film Forbidden Planet, and the character of Data from the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation.

As computer and electronic technology has caught up with rampant imagination, some modern inventors have created androids for a wide range of purposes. Walt Disney famously used animatronic androids to provide the rides at Disney parks with lifelike characters. In the 21st century, Japanese and South Korean robotics companies have emerged at the forefront of android development, creating human-like robots that can walk, smile, speak, and even sing.

Modern technology has allowed the combination of robotics and computer technology to create startlingly lifelike androids. Silicone skin, real hair, and complex and silent hydraulic are utilized to give the illusion of natural muscle movement, appearance, and even breathing. Some companies have ambitiously suggested that androids will soon be available commercially for a wide range of purposes, though laws and guidelines have yet to be established regarding the commercial application of this rapidly improving area of developing technology.

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Discuss this Article

anon323345
Post 9

Are people with prosthetic parts considered to be cyborgs? If not, then how many artificial parts are required to gain the name cyborg?

runner101
Post 8

I have previously thought that there must be some androids mixed in with the rest of us, because some people just seem to have no heart or no emotions, some don't even have much of a change in expression!

My Dad loved Star Trek, so growing up with only one television, we had to watch it or nothing occasionally. I always felt sorry for Data, trying to fit in with the humans, with not much luck.

I think slavery in any sense is horrible. People should leave every day tasks for themselves to do. If they simply can not, hire some other human to do it, and treat them with the utmost respect and dignity. There are plenty of people willing, able, and wanting any kind of job they can get, as long as it isn’t oppressive!

I am all for advancements in technology and everything, but only advancements that can help us, not hinder us.

Monika
Post 7

@SZapper - Well, there's a reason they call science fiction, science fiction, not science fact! Just because science fiction stories talk about androids rebelling against their makers, doesn't mean it's going to happen!

I think if androids were invented the chances of them turning against their human makers are probably slim. Obviously they would be programmed not to do so!

SZapper
Post 6

I think androids may become reality in the next fifty years. Even though science fiction stories often show androids overcoming their programming and turning on their makers, humans beings have insatiable curiosity. Sometimes I think we invent new technologies just because we can!

I mean, don't get me wrong, androids could be quite useful. They could do dangerous jobs, or jobs no humans want to do. I think it will all be fine and dandy until they malfunction and hurt someone!

nextcorrea
Post 5

I have seen internet videos of android technology that they are experimenting with right now. Obviously it is all still pretty far off but the outlines are being created today.

We will not have truly incredible androids until we have better robots. There are incredible robots today but none that can match the fluid motion and intelligence of humans.

But there have been robots developed that have been grafted with a skin like substance which can imitate human expressions with remarkable accuracy. You can tell its not human, but it looks pretty close to real. I'm sure that bigger, faster, better versions will come along soon. We might even start to see them show up in the real world.

truman12
Post 4

I am also a big fan of androids and I have two favorite characters from films.

The first is Bishop, the android character from Aliens. There is that incredible scene where he pokes in between his fingers with the tip of a knife faster and faster never making a mistake. The actor that plays him is awesome.

The second is the replicants from Blade Runner. I like all of them. I love the way they portray the androids in that movie as if they are kind of punk rock and psychotic.

Androids are such interesting characters, I'm sure we will see some amazing androids on screen in the near future.

Kat919
Post 3

I think there really is a question not just *when* this will happen, but *if.* Is there really a lot of demand for sentient robots? Yeah, we all take about wanting robots to clean our houses. But you wouldn't need an android for that, and I don't think people would really want one. Something like a cross between a Roomba and a Furby, maybe! Not a high level of intelligence, nor looking like a person.

If you think about it, what would really be the applications of an android? Even if you want something with human-level intelligence that's more "disposable" than a person, it wouldn't necessarily need to be shaped like a person. Other shapes might be more suited to the application at hand.

Remember, in the Star Trek universe, there was only one Data, and his inventor was an oddball loner. Because no one else really found it worthwhile!

animegal
Post 2

@lonelygod - Androids come up a lot in Japanese animation and they are usually portrayed as companions for humans or as slaves. I think the issue of freedom for beings with artificial intelligence is a difficult one, as if you are in a really advanced scientific future, how do you know programming from actual emotions? When does the android actually become sentient?

I think that humans are a long way from building robots that are actually human enough to give us pause with how we use them. Until androids are made to trick the human eye completely, I think they will remain novelty items.

lonelygod
Post 1

Androids have always been one of my favorite sci-fi characters. I find it interesting that when they are truly artificial intelligence, how they struggle with fitting into human society. There is nothing more fascinating than watching an android interact with humans on television or in movies.

Do you think that if we were really to create androids with quality artificial intelligence that they would merely end up slaves to the human race? Or would we work to give them equal rights and treat them as a entirely different species with their own needs and wants?

I truly believe that androids would start out in a slave role, and as there intelligence grew would eventually strive for equal rights.

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