From the ancient legend of lady-maker Pygmalion, to 80s classics The Terminator and Blade Runner with it’s ‘‘more human than human’’ killing machines, artificial people, have titillated and terrified us in equal measure.
Robots can be anything from comic sidekicks to apocalyptic threats, often telling us more about what it means to be human than to be machine.
The latest in the mechanical family line is Chappie (Sharlto Copley), from the film of the same name by Neill Blomkamp.
In the film adefunct police robot, Chappie is given a childlike consciousness after being stolen by a gang of rough and ready criminals.
As he ‘‘grows up’’, Chappie learns life’s brutal lessons, examining what it means to be a living, thinking, feeling thing.
Artificial though he is, Chappie has an illustrious lineage.
In 1920, Czech playwright Karel Capek coined the term ‘‘roboti’’ – Slavic for slave – to describe the artificial people in his sci-fi play ifRURnf.
The roboti, tired of humanity’s hubris, wipe them all out just to get some peace.
Fear of our creations rising up to kick our fleshy, pathetic butts has been a popular one since then.
In 1927, German silent film Metropolis introduced Chappie’s great grandmother, Maria, a robot-cum-femme fatale, who leads the workers in revolt against their indolent masters.
The first feature length sci-fi, Metropolis plays on the fear that technology will control us more than we control it.
In 1951, a robot called Gort terrified audiences with his keen laser eye in The Day The Earth Stood Still.
Designed to keep the peace at any cost – including wiping us out – Gort represents the machine as God, standing in immovable judgement on human folly.
Man would get the upper hand again in 1975, though, with The Stepford Wives, a feminist sci-fi in which middle class men exchange their recently liberated women-folk for mindless automata happiest ironing bras instead of burning them.
The pessimism was back in 1982 with classic, Blade Runner, in which a group of robots seek out their maker to demand more life, only to destroy him when it’s not forthcoming.
As a metaphor for the human condition, films do not come more perfect than Ridley Scott’s rain soaked masterpiece.
Dying robot Leon (Brion James) sums up the film’s central theme when he delivers a witty one liner to Blade Runner Deckard (Harrison Ford).
‘‘Wake up, time to die,’’ he says, life is fleeting, better hop to it.
Later, when robot commander Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) delivers his now famous monologue on the meaning of life, Blade Runner’s robots are truly ‘‘more human than human’’, understanding how to live better than any of the fleshies in the film.
That understanding makes Scott’s existential robots the natural-unnatural parents of Blomkamp’s Chappie, a sensitive soul who, like us, just wants to live.