My 5 Favorite TV Artificial Life Forms

The Jetsons, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Lost in Space, Stargate SG-1, Geoff and Grant

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, what does it say about us that we are constantly creating machines in our own image? Most artificial life forms found on TV – robots and androids – are made to be as similar to us as possible. Perhaps we are striving to create the perfect human being. Or maybe we seek the familiar in the things we create. I think I am starting to sound like the opening of an Outer Limits episode…

Just like people, artificial life forms come in two basic flavors, somewhere between good and evil. Yes, there are gray areas for both humans and artificial life forms. But I tend to think that straddling the line is rare, and one usually falls on either side of that line dividing good from evil. Next week I will be writing about the most menacing TV artificial life forms, so if you don’t see your favorite below, stay tuned!

Mr. Data – Star Trek: The Next Generation

Mr. Data - Star Trek: The Next Generation

Probably one of the most famous androids on TV, Data is certainly one of the most easily recognizable and well liked. Data provided for us an alternate point of view frequently the realm of an actual alien in science fiction stories. And, in addition, his quest to be more human enhanced his ability to comment on humanity.

It is funny in a way that Dr. Noonien Soong, with all his technical expertise, could not get Data’s skin tone closer to actual humanity, but then visually it was helpful to see that he really was different. Data’s other quirks, like being unable to use contractions, were also, in my opinion, hard to justify except for the fact they added to his distinctive nature.

The Robot – Lost in Space

The Robinson Family, Dr. Smith, Major West and the Robot - Lost in Space

Devoted fans of Star Trek know that the history behind the origin of Star Trek and Lost in Space is intertwined. As reported by Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, he pitched his idea to CBS, who then reportedly turned around and said “thanks but no thanks” and allegedly used Roddenberry’s ideas, especially on ways to keep costs down, to produce Lost in Space. And, the two series turned out very different.

Over the course of Lost in Space’s run, the Robot changed. It started out as a cold machine, totally controlled by the evil Dr. Smith, but evolved into a snarky, independent thinking being, and best friend and companion of Will. The Robot had a repertoire of catch phrases that are still recognized today – “Warning! Warning!”, “That does not compute” and “Danger, Will Robinson!”

SG-1 Duplicates – Stargate SG-1

Daniel, Sam and Teal'c - Stargate SG-1

In the Season 1 episode “Tinman,” SG-1 travels to a planet where they are duplicated. I’m not talking cloning here, but rather mechanical androids are created in their image complete with their memories and feelings. The alien who did this had no nefarious intentions, but rather needed assistance keeping the machinery of his world going. By the end of the episode, our heroes are set free and their duplicates are left with the admonition to not journey off world.

Of course, the problem was that by implanting them with the memories and feelings of SG-1, staying on one planet was not in their nature. Fast forward to season 4 and the episode “Double Jeopardy,” which explores what has been going on the past couple of years unknown to Stargate Command. The duplicates invented a portable power source, and were indeed going on off world missions.

Events come to a head when the duplicates go missing and the real SG-1 is forced to assist them. The duplicates, as it turns out, are every bit as heroic as the real SG-1 as is demonstrated early on when the duplicate Jackson sacrifices himself to save the rest of his duplicate team. The rest of the duplicates do not fare well either, but with the assistance of the real SG-1 do accomplish the goal of freeing the people enslaved on the planet.

Rosey – The Jetsons

Jane and Rosey - The Jetsons

When I was growing up, there was no network dedicated to cartoons. Our choices were limited to Saturday mornings, and the unusual occurrence of prime time cartoon shows like The Jetsons and The Flintstones. While Rosey was not a big part of the original season in the 1960s, when more episodes were made in the 1980s for syndication, she had a larger role.

The Jetsons depicted a futuristic family, with the same issues we all deal with – proving that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The fun part of the show was the technology they had available. And of course, Rosey was part of that. However, she was no mere machine, but rather a caring figure with strong opinions and a personality to match. She not only assisted with the household chores, but also helped parent the two children. She was definitely a part of the family!

Geoffrey Peterson – The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson

Geoff and Grant - The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson

Originally conceived by Craig, who complained he had neither a band nor a sidekick, Geoff has become so much more than just a sidekick. Craig managed to finagle the services of Grant Imahara, of the Mythbusters TV series, to build Geoff. Grant is an engineer with extensive experience in robotics. Craig roped him in by making a bet that he could get Grant 100,000 Twitter followers. That magic number was achieved in a mere 24 hours, and Geoff was born.

As with any piece of technology, Geoff has undergone upgrades since being first created. It is now operated and voiced live during the show. Geoff is the ideal sidekick for Craig, with a snarky and complementary personality. For me, their banter is one of the highlights of the show!

Those are my five favorite TV artificial life forms. Stay tuned next week for my list of the most menacing TV artificial life forms. In the meantime, please let me know if you have any comments or additions to my list in the comment section below.