“Calm down,” my mother said as she stifled a laugh.
Panicked nearby shoppers in the suburban Maryland mall circa 1980s relaxed their shoulders when they saw my mother comfort me.
I had just encountered my first robot.
At age five, I was shy. My mom thought introducing me to the robot would be a good idea. A cute photo op.
But I had other ideas.
The robot was tall—a huge looming, lurching beast in my memory. In reality, it was a five-foot person dressed inside a plastic outfit doing a mall meet-and-greet outside of KB Toys.
All the other kids loved it. The robot guy probably figured it was an easy gig.
But then he met me.
Terrified, I screamed as though someone had hacked my arm off. The shriek pierced the eardrums of the passing holiday shoppers, causing them to halt and scan the scene for a deranged child abuser.
As I sprinted away from the robot in a panic, little did I realize how much I’d eventually grow to love robots. Later, when my mother explained there was a person inside, my older brother rolled on the floor laughing.
Was it really a human in the robot? Or was it a conspiracy? The beginning of an uprising of 1980s mall robots?
Maybe an army of mallbot warriors lies in wait underneath the rubble of America’s old malls. Future story idea?
Over the years, my fear of robots turned to fascination aided by a steady childhood viewing diet of The Jetsons, Buck Rogers, and Small Wonder.
As an ode to that lonely, well-meaning mall robot (dare I call him MALL-E?), here is a list of why robots are awesome and not scary.
1. The new Lost in Space robot.
You can’t help but adore the rebooted robot in LIS—the 2018 Netflix reboot. When young Will Robinson saved the alien robot’s life, he bonded with the young boy much to the surprise of the Robinson family.
Most of the characters would be dead already were it not for the strength and intelligence of the robot. While he may be socially awkward, the touching scene in the cave where the robot dipped his hand in paint signaling he wanted to be part of the family was endearing and unforgettable.
Let’s hope there’s much more of the robot in future seasons. Also, the robot is kind of hot.
2. Robots make cool armor.
Somewhere in Japan right now, companies are solving the problems of the future by designing gigantic metal robot suits. Check out this amazing (and alarming) video.
Is this really happening? Are these the military uniforms of the future?
3. Robots make us consider our own humanity.
In his iconic book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick introduced the world to replicants—androids made of organic matter who were identical to humans. Only an array of bizarre, mundane questions administered through a test held the clue to their true identities.
Enter Rick Deckard, a cop fed up with his numbing day-to-day existence who hunted for a group of rogue, escaped replicants. We eventually learned the replicants yearned to survive and experienced deep emotions like love and attachment.
The book, and subsequent Bladerunner movies caused us to question what it means to be human, to have a soul, and why one species is “better” than another.
4. When all else fails, send in the robot.
The unsung hero of Aliens was the resident android, Bishop. Ripley hated him at first because an older model went berserk on her prior ship and murdered a bunch of the crew. No wonder she was suspicious.
But when the hungry aliens literally crawled through the walls and the last survivors were stranded far from the only capable ship, who else but Bishop would be fit for the task of wiggling through a long tunnel, programming the ship, and rescuing the humans?
In short, Bishop rocked that movie and (spoiler alert) managed to save Newt with only half of his body.
5. Robots can take over the tasks you hate and improve your life.
One of my childhood fantasies was to one day own a machine that would automatically shampoo, dry, and fix my hair in seconds like this one from The Jetsons.
6. They do your housework.
One of my favorite purchases ever has been my robotic vacuum cleaner. My favorite kind of vacuum is the one I don’t have to push.
I turn it on and housecleaning is done in minutes. That is awesome.
7. They serve and protect.
Growing up, I had a crush on Peter Weller as Robocop. I mean, who wouldn’t?
Rumor has it Weller was hired for his strong jawline. The casting director hit the mark as he turned out to be the perfect actor for the cyborg title character.
8. They run cool hotels.
The Netflix original series, Altered Carbon, is fantastic for many reasons. One of my favorite characters on the show is Poe, the AI owner of The Raven Hotel.
He dresses as if he’s Edgar Allen Poe and will do anything to protect his guest. Takeshi Kovacs ignores warnings that nobody stays in AI hotels anymore and becomes Poe’s first guest in 50 years.
Will we stay in AI hotels someday? I hope so!
9. They redeem themselves.
No list about robots would be complete without mentioning The Terminator. It’s hard to imagine anyone but Arnold Schwarzenegger playing the role.
Of note is Arnold’s transformation from a relentless killing machine in the first movie to protective father-figure in Terminator 2.
Good news! Arnold and Linda Hamilton are coming back in 2019 for a Terminator reboot from James Cameron.
10. They might be our creators.
Red pill or blue pill? Here’s why we might actually be living in a Matrix-like computer simulation.