Why Are Robots Often Humanoid?

More often than not, robots in science fiction are human-looking, at least to some extent. Why? It seems to me that the biggest reason is that all science fiction is really about humans or aspects of humans. So C3PO and Data aren’t really robots. They are reflections of our human behavior.

On the more practical side, having human-looking robots makes things easier because in writing, you don’t have to describe them as much, and in portrayals, it is easier to get an actor to look like Gort than to create a giant moving tripod with amorphous limbs. With today’s tech, that’s less of a problem than it used to be, but still might drive costs.

Human robots can advance the story, too. In the original Battle Star Galactica, the Cylons were humanoid, so they could use human equipment and ships. Depending on your favorite backstory, that might make sense. In the reboot, the ships, for example, were simply robot ships. This made it harder, but more interesting, for Starbuck to capture one and fly it home. So while having a robot that can steal your gun (or one that your hero can steal theirs) can lead to action, having to puzzle out robot-specific tech can be fun, too.

Of course, there are exceptions. For every C3PO, there’s an R2D2. But even then, we tend to anthromophorize them. Think WALL-E or Johnny 5. We need more alien robots that are–well–alien. It seems like you might build robots to meet very specific purposes and that will affect their form. What do you think?


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