If you've had enough scary robots by now, it's time for one who makes malevolence funny. Bender, a member of the cast of the animated TV comedy series "Futurama," is more of a menace to propriety than a genuine threat to humankind. A sort of twisted doppelganger of the loyal, anxiously obsequious mechanical servant C-3P0 from the "Star Wars" film series, Bender -- originally built in a Mexican factory as a metal-bending device -- is a lazy slacker who consumes copious amounts of alcohol as fuel and contemptuously derides his human masters as "meatbags" [sources: Muljadi, Futurama]. As "Futurama" creator Matt Groening explained in a Wired interview: "He (Bender) is totally corrupt. He shoplifts. He thrives on the things that harm humans. He actually gets energy from smoking cigars and drinking beer. Bender also gets us around censor problems -- he can't be a bad role model for kids, because he is just a robot" [source: Kelly].
Bender does occasionally spout the stock robotic rhetoric about human annihilation, but it's really more wishful thinking than actual intent, since he's too apathetic and cynical to develop the sort of idealistic outrage that drove his literary ancestors in "Rossum's Universal Robots (R.U.R.)" In one episode, for example, Bender's human roommate, Fry, feels compelled to rouse the sleeping robot from a dream, in which he is murmuring "Kill all humans, kill all humans, must kill all humans..." Upon awakening, Bender explains: "I was having the most wonderful dream. I think you were in it" [source: Imdb].
Author's Note: 10 Evil Robots Bent on Destroying Humanity
I grew up in the 1960s reading comic books and watching TV shows that featured anthropomorphic robots -- that is, ones designed to resemble humans and, to a degree, act like them. As a grown-up science writer, of course, I've come to understand that although we live in an age in which we're surrounded by actual robots, most of them are really glorified remote-control tools, such as the mechanical arms that paint cars on assembly lines and da Vinci, the machine that performs prostate cancer surgery with amazing deftness. Even so, I still harbor a fascination for machines that would not only mimic humans, but possibly blur the distinction.
Back in 2005, for example, I went to the Wired NextFest in Chicago, and got a chance to see a glimpse of that possible future, an android designed by robotics researcher David Hanson. The machine not only bore a striking resemblance to the late science fiction author Philip K. Dick, but was also programmed to utter cryptic statements that evoked Dick's obsession with the existential no-man's land that separated the artificial from the organic. For the first time, I got a sense of what it might be like if robots actually were alive and sentient, as they are in science fiction.
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