An android is an artificially created robotic being, an automaton, that resembles a human being usually both in appearance and behavior. The word derives from Greek Andr- 'man, human' and the suffix -eides used to mean 'of the species, kind, alike' (from eidos 'species'). The word droid, a robot in the Star Wars universe, is derived from this meaning.
Unlike the terms robot (a mechanical being) and cyborg (a being that is partly organic and partly mechanical), the word android has been used in literature and other media to denote several different kinds of man-made, autonomous creations:
- a robot that closely resembles a human
- a cyborg that closely resembles a human
- an artificially created, yet primarily organic, being that closely resembles a human
Although human morphology is not necessarily the ideal form for working robots, the fascination in developing robots that can mimic it can be found historically in the assimilation of two concepts: simulacra (devices that exhibit likeness) and automata (devices that have independence).
The term android was first used by the French author Mathias Villiers de l'Isle-Adam (1838-1889) in his work Tomorrow's Eve, featuring an artificial human-like robot named Hadaly. As said by the officer in the story, "In this age of Realien advancement, who knows what goes on in the mind of those responsible for these mechanical dolls."
Although Karel Čapek's robots in R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) (1921)—the play that introduced the word "robot" to the world—were organic artificial humans, the word robot has come to primarily refer to mechanical humans. The term android can mean either one of these, while a cyborg ("cybernetic organism" or "bionic man") would be a creature that is a combination of organic and mechanical parts.
Historically, science fiction authors have used "android" in a greater diversity of ways than the terms "robot" and "cyborg". In some fiction works, the primary difference between a robot and android is only skin-deep, with androids being made to look almost exactly like humans on the outside, but with internal mechanics exactly the same as that of robots. In other stories, authors have defined android to indicate a wholly organic, yet artificial, creation. Other definitions of android fall somewhere in between.
The character Data, from the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, is described as an android. Data became intoxicated in an early episode ("The Naked Now") and is later referred to having "bioplast sheeting" for skin ("The Most Toys"), perhaps suggesting that he was initially intended by the writers to be at least partially organic. Otherwise, Data was shown to be mechanical throughout and this often became a central plot theme.
The Replicants from the movie Blade Runner were bioengineered organic beings. While they were not referred to as either robots or androids in the movie, the screenplay was originally based on a novel by Philip K. Dick called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
The robots of Čapek's R.U.R. were organic in nature. Today, an author writing a similar story might very well be inclined to call them androids.
The character Ash in the movie Alien, another artificial organic being, is often referred to as an android (though not in the dialogue of the movie itself). Similarly, the character Bishop in Aliens is a more advanced android commonly called a Synth, but prefers to be called an "artificial person". Much later, the character Call in Alien Resurrection is ashamed of being an android.
C-3PO and R2-D2 from the Star Wars movies are referred to as droids. While C-3PO could reasonably be called an android because he is humanoid in appearance, the squat cylinder R2-D2 is only humanoid in behavior.
In the movie A.I., the robotic characters are called mechanoids, but the film is loosely based on a short story written by Brian Aldiss called "Supertoys Last All Summer Long", in which the central character David is called an android (by which Aldiss seemed to be referring to an organic creation).
Androids in fiction
Isaac Asimov's robot stories are mostly about androids; many are collected in I, Robot (1950). They promulgated a set of rules of ethics for androids and robots (see Three Laws of Robotics) that greatly influenced other writers and thinkers in their treatment of the subject. Most of Asimov's robots appear too artificial to be mistaken for human beings, with the notable exceptions of R. Jander Panell, R. Daneel Olivaw and Andrew Martin.
Perhaps the most famous android is Data, played by actor Brent Spiner, of the series Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987–1994) and several spin-off motion pictures; this character was largely inspired by another android character created by Gene Roddenberry for The Questor Tapes. Data's immediate 'family' – brothers Lore and B-4 et al., daughter Lal, and 'mother' Dr. Juliana Tainer – were also androids (and the fembots are properly, though rarely, referred to as gynoids) from the same creator, Dr. Noonien Soong.
Earlier in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), the Ilia probe – a precisely duplicated biomechanical drone of Lieutenant Ilia, with some of her emotions intact – was dispatched by V'ger to gather information about the crew of the starship Enterprise.
In the re-imagined series Battlestar Galactica (2003–), the gynoid Number Six is one of a (seductive) variant of the antagonistic, robotic Cylons that is used to infiltrate the fleeing human Colonial forces and, particularly, the mind of the scientist Dr. Gaius Baltar.
Androids (Jinzou Ningen in Japanese; meaning 'artificial human') are also a race in Dragonball, Dragonball Z, and Dragonball GT. The androids' names were only numbers (such as Android #13 or Android #20). They were created by Dr. Gero, Dr. Muu, and the Red Ribbon Army. Some are entirely artificial and some are created from humans and can be considered cyborgs.
Many more examples may be found in this list of fictional robots.
- Kerman, Judith B. (1991). Retrofitting Blade Runner: Issues in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press. ISBN 0879725095
- Shelde, Per (1993). Androids, Humanoids, and Other Science Fiction Monsters: Science and Soul in Science Fiction Films. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 0814779301
- Domestic robot
- Muscle wire
- Sex doll
- Artificial intelligence
- Humanoid robot
- Repliee Q1