Android

The difference between robots and androids

Edmond Woychowsky discusses the one major difference between robots and androids -- with the caveat that there's a fuzzy line between the categories.

In science fiction and in the real world, there are quite a number of gray areas. National Robotics Week (April 10 - 18, 2010) seems like a good time to discuss one particular fuzzy line: the difference between robots and androids. Both words are usually used interchangeably, which is why R2-D2 is called a droid, a derivative of android. (Side note: Verizon's Droid site states: DROID is a trademark of Lucasfilm Ltd. and its related companies. Used under license.) While on the surface this might seem correct, there is a major difference between robots and androids.

A robot can, but does not necessarily have to be in the form of a human, but an android is always in the form of a human. So, following this line of reasoning, SRI International's Shakey was a robot, while ATR Intelligent Robotics and Communication Laboratories' Geminoid F is an android. There is, however, an issue with the definition of an android: Just what does "in the form of a human" mean?

It can be argued that an android should be able to pass as a human in natural light. So, if you subscribe to this belief, C-3PO from Star Wars and R. Giskard Reventlov from Isaac Asimov's The Robots of Dawn are robots, not androids. The reason for this conclusion is that by no stretch of the imagination can either pass as human. On the other hand, Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation (right) can pass as human (albeit a human with an odd complexion), so it falls in the android classification.

Gene Roddenberry's Questor android from The Questor Tapes can also pass as human. Actually despite Questor's emotional issues (which are akin to Data's emotional issues), Questor has an easier time passing as a human. Some of this acceptance is due to androids being in the realm of science fiction on 20th century Earth.

My personal definitions are by no means hard and fast; consider, for example, Isaac Asimov's character Andrew from the novella The Bicentennial Man and film of the same name. In the story, Andrew began his existence as a robot and through a series of upgrades and modifications becomes more and more human-like, transitioning to android and possibly even human. While Andrew's journey is fascinating and uplifting, it brings up a question that we'll explore in another post: What is the difference between an android and a human?

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24 comments
Mingheng Wang
Mingheng Wang

So it's more accurate to call Google's little green 'Android' robot?

saroberts
saroberts

Growing up my understanding of the difference between a robot and an android:


Robot - A mechanical automation that was only capable of doing what it was programmed to do.

Android - There were 2 basic requirements,

1) While it was mechanical it was supposed to look and sound human, in some cases even replicate human functions of eating or perspiring.

2) An android also required an Artificial Intelligence in that it could like a human being learn from experience and progress to points beyond its programming.


robotbetty9
robotbetty9

Not all androids will be mistaken for humans. Wiki says an android, is "designed to look and act like a human." The key word is "like", meaning "similar to". -- Robot Betty9 http://www.robots-and-androids.com

HCream
HCream

I think it's more appropriate for the next topic to be "What is the difference between a Cyborg and a Human?"

HCream
HCream

I think it's more appropriate for the next topic to be "What is the difference between a Cyborg and a Human?"

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

I think android should apply to all robots that have been engineered to resemble humans. There's seldom an engineering rationale for designing a robot with one head, two arms, two legs, neck, torso, abdomen, butt, fingered hands, walking propulsion, etc. etc. That would make c3p0 an android (anthropomorphic automaton). Otherwise you have a paradox: the Terminator is an android until you blast it's fleshy bits off, then it turns into a robot. Of course, this definition too has it's problems, you could imagine a receptionist-type centauric robot/android crosstype, with a wheeled undercarriage featuring a human-looking upper torso.

DadsPad
DadsPad

Asimov's R. Daneel Olivaw was defined as a robot, not android. Asimov wrote many books as stories proving that looking and (sometimes) acting human does not make it human. R. Daneel never though of being human. (I Robot, the movie, had little to do with Asimov's I Robot the novel.) Star Trek's Data, on the show, was termed an android, but by Asimov's definition would be a robot who knows it was not human by tying to define what was human. Star Wars DROID (trade marked) was just a cool word to use for a robot that could perform independent action. These were all creative characters to give emotional conflict (Asimov/Star Trek) or comic/action (Star Wars). A piece of the creative process. The real deffinition will only happen as we develop intelligence artifically in the lab. And, what influenced the scientists to do their work.

melias
melias

Robots are generally mechanical forms, anthropomorphic or non-anthropomorphic forms which are not self-aware and self-actuating. Androids are self-aware and self-actuating. In other words, they can have their own ambitions. They are Sentient and Sapient. They are also generally anthropomorphic. The book and movie 'I Robot' should have been 'I Android', but lacks a certain 'something'.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

Robots can take any form. Kitt from Knight Rider is an autonomous robot with human-like intelligence and self-awareness. The robots in the Toyota factory are very basic remotely operated bodies or tools that run on a single program, or series of relatively simple programs. Androids are mechanical robots that are humanoid in form. i.e. 2 arms, 2 legs, torso, head, replicating most or all body parts and proportions. So you could have giants, normals, dwarves, and midgets that are all androids. The Honda ASIMO is about as primative as you can get and qualify for the android definition. R. Daneel Olivaw and Data are autonomous humanoid robots, and androids that can easily pass for human. Sonny is a transitional android, not a cubistic humanoid like the ASIMO, and not a fully human appearing android like Data. Kitt is not considered an autonomous robotic life form because Kitt is not able to reproduce. When robots, android or otherwise, have the capability to reproduce themselves, they qualify as a life form. The quality of being "human" is not a matter of biology, genetics, or physical form; but of mental makeup. Theoretically, you can strip a human being down to a naked brain, and as long as it was fully alive and functioning, would still be human. Quadraplegics may as well be naked brains as nothing else of their bodies are under their voluntary control. And nobody would possibly insist that Christopher Reeves or Steven Hawking weren't human. Which also means that it is theoretically possible for us to create an electronic computer that is also "human". "Friday" is fully human; although she was genetically manufactured, grown in an artifical womb, and raised (or programmed - no real difference) in an artifical person creche. Children born with anencephaly basically only have a brain stem and no cerebral cortex or neocortex. They almost always die a few days after birth although there have been reports of them living for over a decade. However, there is no cognitive thought going on in these children; which are basically empty shells. By my definition they are not human. Which is also the major reason I have such a fundamental hatred of Alzheimer's Disease; it slowly destroys a person's humanity leaving an empty shell.

bboyd
bboyd

Greek andr- + -oeid?s -oid, circa 1751, a mobile robot usually with a human form Czech, from robota compulsory labor, 1923 1 a : a machine that looks like a human being and performs various complex acts (as walking or talking) of a human being; also : a similar but fictional machine whose lack of capacity for human emotions is often emphasized b : an efficient insensitive person who functions automatically 2 : a device that automatically performs complicated often repetitive tasks 3 : a mechanism guided by automatic controls

dogknees
dogknees

I agree with your general idea, but when it comes to human vs non-human, I think we should retain the notion that a human is a biological being produced from a fertilised ovum, where the ovum and sperm are generated by humans. Or at least that the being in question began it's life in this category. What we need to get away from is categorising behaviour as "human" when we mean "intelligent". Lumping it all into "human" makes the term useless. If we do this, then we'll need another new term for biologically derived humans. Now, if we augment ourselves, or even move ourselves into a digital universe, we don't stop being human in my opinion. So, the current substrate is not what's relevant, it's all about how the being came into being. 2B|!2B.....

drednot57
drednot57

my definition as well. Any machine that performs a complex automated task may be considered a robot. Even that Egyptian engineer who, during Roman times, (I forget his name) was an ancient roboticist as he built automated machines for religious and entertainment purposes. Androids, on the other hand, are human-formed, electronic, or "positronic" machines who behave and think similarly to humans. R2D2, although called a "droid", is actually a robot, while C3PO could be called an android as it's shape is basically human-form. That's my twenty cents worth.

Slvrknght
Slvrknght

Could we then postulate that what would truly separate a human from an android would be (using you definition of "human") a humanoid robot that sees itself as such? Data, Andrew, Sonny; they would all fit that description. If we use your definition of what it means to be human (a state of mind, rather than a description of material components), then if Data initially viewed himself as a human, would he still be an android? But, does the fact that he knows he isn't human, and identifies himself as an android what truly makes him thus? It brings up a quotation I once read, "Can faith abide with certainty." Would just knowing that you were an android preclude any possibility of being a human?

zclayton2
zclayton2

And yes, my Father died of Alzheimer's Disease long before the meat bag ceased functioning.

APitchford
APitchford

I always had a narrower definition of android: a being with a mixture of biological and mechanical parts. Therefore, neither R2D2 or C3P0 qualify as androids for me, while Robocop definitely would, and Data might if he had any biological parts in there somewhere. One could argue that anyone with a prosthetic limb might qualify as an android, but I think the balance is tipped when the being is more machine than human - Darth Vader might make a good test case!

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

What about a human created entirely from spliced genes, like Heinlein's Friday, or one created entirely in the lab? If you can't tell the difference is there a difference?

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

The condition of android-ness and robot-ness are not exclusionary of also being human; if only because the first two conditions are of physical form, while the last one is of mental form. In Frederik Pohl's Heechee series (Heechee Rendezvous iirc) the protagonist Robinette Broadhead, undergoes bodily death and his mind is uploaded into a computer. He knows he started as flesh and blood, he knows he's now an open-ended set of computer algorithms; but he's still "human". Andrew, Data, and Sonny are all far more human than at least 25% of "humanity". Which is probably why we can identify and empathize with them in the first place. They all know they started out as electronic/positronic/"mechanical" beings. But their basic thought patterns are human in form, however fast they are, and however many other capabilities are built in or added on. Compared to the mental similarities between Andrew, Data, and Sonny; the great apes (chimps, gorillas, orangutans, gibbons), while intelligent, and arguably sentient beings, are far more alien. Those apes do NOT think like human beings; even though we share some points of commonality.

sboverie
sboverie

The difference between a normally conceived person and one whose DNA was selected sounds like a version of the Turing test. If there are no obvious differences then shouldn't that make both equally human? When the Europeans started exploring the Americas, there was a question about whether the inhabitants were human and had souls. The natives looked human but acted differently. The natives were found to be humans with souls and were converted to European religions; some more voluntarily than others.

dogknees
dogknees

I'd call that a borderline case. All this stuff is speculation, so I'd speculate that a spliced together genome would probably be identifiable as such. If we know enough about the functioning of a genome to build a new one, we'd probably know enough to be able to recognize an artificial one.

mr_m_sween
mr_m_sween

if you spliced together dog genes with the intention of creating a dog the end result would be (hopefully) a dog. I imagine the same would go for a human. Now if you combine the dog and human....you get Barf from spaceballs. So I'd say the important pieces are the base materials and the intended design. Not so much the process, whether natural or artificial. I'm sure many people would be, unfortunately for the world, quick to make distinction between the two even if the distinction was minor or simply cosmetic.

sboverie
sboverie

You have excellent points about defining humanity. I have thought of Data and Andrew as versions of Pinocchio, that is a made thing that wants to be human. Alzheimers and dementia are terrible diseases that destroy those aspects of being human that we hold in high regard. It is my hope that I die with my mental faculties intact and not in a fogged state of mind.

dogknees
dogknees

This reminds me of a joke that is quite relevant. A farmer has 4 bulls and 5 cows in a field. Someone asks him, "if we call the bulls cows, how many cows are there?" The answer is "there are 5, it doesn't matter what you call them, the bulls are still bulls". The thing doesn't change because you use a different name.

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