This browser is supported only in Windows 10 and above.

Artificial intelligence is creeping up around us. Please, don’t be alarmed: We’re not saying your coworker is AI (but we can’t 100 percent say he isn’t, either). We’re talking more specifically about the AMC network original Humans now heading to BBC America for a second run. If you missed the series depicting high-functioning, lifelike robots in 2015, or want to give it another go, the series premieres on BBCA this coming Friday, October 30, at 11pm Eastern Time.

If you need a refresher, Humans stars Colin Morgan, Katherine Parkinson and William Hurt. The story is set in suburban London, taking place in a parallel present. The latest must-have gadget for any busy family is a Synth, which is a highly developed, artificially intelligent servant eerily similar to its living counterpart.

Early on in the series Parkinson’s character becomes what appears to be jealous of her Synth, who helps take care of the family’s children. Basically, she’s threatened by the robot she’s bought to make her life easier. This leads us to a discussion: When does AI cross the line over to being human … or, at least, “human but not really”?

We’re going to go back through 15 TV shows featuring AI characters, which may help address the above question:

1. The Jetsons (1962)

Rosie is a robot maid on The Jetsons. She helps out with cleaning, even lifting furniture with her super strength, but probably doesn’t do windows … the water might short circuit her innards. While she’s not quite human, the Jetsons treat and love her like a family member.

2. Lost in Space (1965)

Everyone needs a protector like the robot in Lost in Space, simply called, “The Robot.” He may not have a proper name, but he is classified as B-9. He is always in the right place at the right time to alert the family, even the sneaky Dr. Smith, when there is danger, a.k.a., “Danger, Will Robinson. Danger.”

3. Buck Rogers (1979)

Buck Rogers is a 20th century astronaut who is accidentally frozen, waking up 500 years later. While that’s all a lot to handle, he has his robot friend Twiki, an ambuquad, to help him make his way in this new world. In the above clip Twiki makes a fellow robot friend of his own and there seems to be love in the air.

4. Knight Rider (1982)

AI comes in all forms, including … a car. But this isn’t any Pontiac you’d see on the streets. KITT, which stands for Knight Industries Two Thousand, is a Pontiac Fire Bird Trans Am which is so tricked out, it can speak. Detective Michael Long, who takes on the new identity of Michael Knight after a gunshot wound to the face and extensive plastic surgery, relies on KITT in fighting crime.

5. Small Wonder (1985)

Ted Lawson works at a robotics company on the show Small Wonder. Lo and behold, one day he comes home with a robot called V.I.C.K.I. (Voice Input Child Identicant). To the rest of the neighborhood she appears to be a 10-year-old girl, who Ted and his wife identify as their daughter. In the theme song she’s described as being “fantastic,” “made of plastic,” bringing “love and laughter everywhere.” But it doesn’t say anything about her reciprocating those feelings.

6. Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987)

On the other hand, Data is all droid and all business. He is a crew member of the USS Enterprise. He doesn’t give off any sense of having emotions or experiencing feelings, for better or worse … unless he just has a great poker face.

7. Red Dwarf (1988)

Kryten is a mechanoid designed to serve. He says on Red Dwarf that his purpose is “to serve and have no regard for himself.” Which makes us go, “Hmm,” because in the above clip he talks about serving his human masters and looking forward to his “reward” in “silicon heaven.” This definitely reveals another layer, with him contemplating afterlife.

8. Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1988)

A guy named Joel was working as a janitor and minding his own business. But, for some reason, his bosses didn’t like him and shot him into space. And to make things worse, they sent him cheesy movies, the worst they could find. They wanted him to sit and watch them, so they could monitor his mind. But Joel came up with a plan: He used the extra parts he found to make himself some robot friends, named Cambot, Gypsy, Tom Servo and Crow.

9. Futurama (1999)

Fry is a pizza delivery man living in 1999. He’s accidentally frozen (we see a pattern here) and wakes up in 2999. He then becomes a delivery man, traveling across galaxies. One of his main hangs is Bender, a robot. Bender is the life of the party, always having something to say and is also flawed … like a human.

10. Battlestar Galactica (2004)

Earth is attacked by killer robots, Cylons to be exact, in Battlestar Galactica. It wouldn’t be a post on AI without mentioning robots gone bad.

11. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008)

Again, the machines in Terminator have one mission: to kill.

12. Person of Interest (2011)

In Person of Interest the AI isn’t in the form of a being but instead a machine that can predict future crimes. “The Machine,” as it’s called, is not clear on whether the person being monitored is in fact the victim or the potential criminal. That’s where a human steps in.

13. Almost Human (2013)

In Almost Human police officers are partnered up with an android. The thing is, a lot of crime fighting is based on instinct. These androids are all about logic. Seasoned detective John Kennex finds himself working with an older version, which still has some kinks … his android partner experiences emotional responses.

14. Minority Report (2015)

Minority Report follows two twins who are able to see future crimes play out. Clearly they are human, but they are then hooked up to a machine that projects images pulled from their minds. The problem is, the machine isn’t always correct.

15. Westworld (2016)

The robots in Westworld are designed to fulfill the fantasies of customers at a high-tech, Wild West-themed amusement park. The robots don’t know they’re robots. And, for some reason, they are programmed to feel pain and fear. Needless to say, when they do realize what’s happening, they don’t like it so much.

The range of AI characters in the above clips made us think of this Ikea commercial when a down-in-the-dumps lamp is put outside on the street in the rain:

And at the end of the commercial the Ikea rep calls us all out for having empathy for a lamp, saying, “Many of you feel bad for this lamp. That’s because you’re crazy. It has no feelings. And the new one is much better.”

Do you find yourself caring for the AI dramatized in the above (maybe not the killer ones)? 

Read More
By Brigid Brown