I recently watched Ex Machina (2014) and Westworld(2016- ), and I have just started watching Humans (2015- ). Though these movies or television shows all qualify as science fiction, yet they do not seem as far-fetched as robot movies used to. We are beginning to take seriously the rise of the robots and the implication that will have on humans. We are wondering if they are conscious or soon will be, if they are or soon will be persons rather than things. And if they supplant us, whether that will be a tragedy or a blessing.
There are basically two types of robot movies: mechanical men and humanoids. Actually, the term “humanoid” is sometimes used to include mechanical men as well, but I am using it here to refer to robots that look like humans. So understood, humanoid movies have the advantage of allowing actors to play the parts just as they are. In the case of mechanical men, it is often the case that an actor has to wear a metal and plastic getup. It really does not matter, because many of the questions concerning robots and their implication for the human race remain the same, their appearance being of secondary importance. Sometimes the mechanical men are just servants or workers, but when they pose a threat, it tends to be physical; the threat of the humanoids typically constitutes an existential one. There are exceptions to this, however.
Humanoid movies have a couple of extra features that mechanical men movies do not. First, if they are humanoid, there is the possibility of having sex with them, although I suppose there may be a few out there kinky enough to want to have sex with a mechanical man or woman, assuming it makes sense to apply the concept of gender to them. Sex with humanoids has all sorts of advantages: sex when you want it, the way you want it; you don’t have to shave first; you don’t have to worry about your performance; your humanoid won’t cheat on you and bring home an STD; and there will probably be an off-switch right there on your remote. At least, that’s the way it will be until we start thinking of them as persons. Then the questions of miscegenation and sex slavery will arise. And then you will have to shave first.
Second, with humanoid movies, there is the question of identity. Who is a humanoid and who is a real human? This can lead to paranoia, not unlike the fear of communists in our midst back in the day. And even if we know who is what, the possibility of a kind of racism will emerge, one that might well be justified.
In any event, all this made me think of The Creation of the Humanoids, a cheesy science fiction movie made in 1962. You almost get the impression that some friends got into a discussion one night about what was going to happen in the future when robots became advanced, and when the evening was over, they decided to put it into a movie. And because they wanted to get it all in, The Creation of the Humanoids ended up being 98% dialogue and 2% action. In one scene after another, characters speak didactically, informing us of the different types of robots, in what ways they are or are not like humans; the effect that robots are having on humans now that they are doing everything humans use to do only better; the relationships between humans and robots; and whether robots will eventually replace humans altogether. The end result is a low-budget movie with crude special effects that plods along from one dialogue scene to another, with the only redeeming feature being that some interesting ideas about the future of robots are discussed, ideas that are beginning to seem more relevant than ever.
In this movie, there is an organization called Flesh and Blood that is prejudiced against robots, derisively referring to them as clickers, with obvious similarities to the Ku Klux Klan. The main character, Kenneth Cragis, who calls himself “the Cragis” for some reason, is a high-ranking member of Flesh and Blood. He doesn’t hate the robots exactly, but he sure doesn’t want his sister to marry one. As a result, he is appalled to find out that his sister is “in rapport” with one of them, and you can guess what that means. When he went to confront her, I almost expected him to call her a clicker lover.
The robots are secretly trying to develop more advanced models, which are electronic duplicates of humans that have recently died, with all their memories implanted in them. They do this not because they are evil, but because they have been programmed to serve man, and they know what is best for man, even if the law actually forbids the development of robots beyond a certain level. These advanced models think they are human, except at special times, when they realize they are robots and report back to the robot temple.
Cragis falls in love with Maxine Megan, and they plan to enter into a contract, which is what they call marriage in the future. But then the special moment arrives, and they are taken to the temple, where they find out that they are robots. Cragis realizes that he has all the advantages of being human, with the robotic advantage of living for two hundred years, after which he can be replaced with another duplicate that will have all his memories. It is almost as if, in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Becky and Miles found out that they had already been replaced by a couple of pods, only the pods were an improved variety that also duplicated emotions, making them just like humans, only better, because, being plants, they can live longer.
As for Maxine, when they duplicated her, the robots decided that she was getting a little fat, so they slimmed her down in the duplication process, which is just one more way in which Cragis benefits from this robotic duplication process. In any event, they are duplicates of humans in every way, except for being able to reproduce and have children. Now, I can’t speak for Cragis, but I would call that a benefit. However, Maxine says she wants the fulfillment of having a baby. Dr. Raven, the scientist who is behind these duplications, says he thinks that form of producing new robots is a bit crude, but he agrees to take her and Cragis to the last phase of duplication, which will allow her to get pregnant.
In the final shot, Dr. Raven turns to the camera and suggests that as a result of having taken robots to this final stage, we in the audience are robots too.