To paraphrase D. J. Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince’s famous anthem: You know, robots are the same no matter time nor place. They don’t understand us humans, and they make some mistakes. So to all the humans all across the land: There’s no need to argue, robots just don’t understand.
Robots are constantly trying to emulate human behavior and failing miserably at it. Usually they mean well, but sometimes their slip-ups are super embarrassing/inappropriate.
With that in mind, here are five notably absurd robot faux pas.
“Liar!” in I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
Faux pas: RB-34 lies to everyone in an attempt to make them feel good.
There’s very little violence or action in Asimov’s initial robot stories. Instead, most tales involve logical paradoxes caused by the three laws of robotics. A robot must not harm a human, or allow harm to come to a human through inaction, but what is meant by “harm?” In the story “Liar!” a robot is accidentally and mysteriously empowered with telepathy, which makes him want to lie to everyone. Why? Well, when he realizes his human colleagues’ most inner desires, he wants to “do them no harm.” Thus, he encourages fantasies and creates falsehoods about love, promotions, and more.
But in the end everyone realizes they’re not getting the promotion they want, and the person they are in love with does not love them back. Thanks a lot, RB-34.
“The Offspring,” Star Trek: The Next Generation
Faux pas: Lal doesn’t understand how to act in a bar.
Data’s numerous blunders throughout Star Trek: The Next Generation could populate an entire list on its own. It’s possible that the most deranged aspect of Data’s existence is that everyone encourages him not to accept the fact he is an android, insisting that he should always strive to be “human.”
In the episode “The Offspring,” he passes on this weird goal to his daughter Lal, and even throws her into weird social situations. When Lal is tending bar in Ten-Forward she gets freaked out by people making out. “He’s biting that female!” she screams. Guinan calms her down, but pretty soon she decides it’s time to make out with (of all people) the Enterprise‘s resident creep-o, Commander Riker.
Not understanding kissing is bad enough. But wanting to make out with Riker? Bad move, Lal. Bad move.
The Empire Strikes Back
Faux pas: C-3PO is really insensitive about Han getting frozen.
Here’s another guy who is constantly saying inappropriate stuff, but his little quip right after Han is frozen in carbonite is really, really bad. Leia has just opened up emotionally more than we’ve ever seen her do before, she and Han finally drop the pretense and genuinely admit they love each other, Lando is feeling guilty, Chewie is freaking out, and what does C-3PO say? “Oh, they’ve encased him in carbonite! He’ll be quite well protected. If he survived the freezing process, that is.” Geez, Threepio! This hurt my feelings even as a kid.
A runner-up for C-3PO’s insensitivity can be found in A New Hope. As the recent Red Letter Media Plinkett commentary track points out: “C-3PO calls the Jawas disgusting creatures after just coming from a Jawa massacre. Too soon, C-3PO! Too soon!”
“Papa’s Planet,” in Alien Horizons by William F. Nolan
Faux pas: Robot Scott Fitzgerald steals somebody’s girlfriend.
William F. Nolan was the co-author of the original Logan’s Run novel with George Clayton Johnson—it’s an awesome novel and I suggest you read it right now—but Nolan’s short fiction was consistently good and often hilarious. In “Papa’s Planet,” a man’s new beau acquires an asteroid populated with Robot Ernest Hemingways, all in various stages of Hemingway’s life. The protagonist is fairly concerned one of these Papas will steal away his girlfriend. They’re all charming and manly and much more interesting than our man, but in the end, a different robot turns out to be the alpha male. In the Paris section of Papa’s Planet, there is a lone Robot Scott Fitzgerald, who unexpectedly is the one who steals the girl.
Perhaps not a true faux pas, but certainly not something you’d necessarily expect from a robot Fitzgerald versus a robot Hemingway. If one of them is going to be a girlfriend stealer, it should be Hemingway. Come on, robots!
K-9 and Company
Faux pas: Bad theme song. Letting Sarah Jane Smith drive drunk.
There was only one episode ever of K-9 and Company, and everything about it is just the worst. The theme song, which one can easily imagine was written by K-9 (it’s certainly performed by K-9), is an absurd earworm that you can never remove from your brain. And notice how much Sarah Jane Smith is drinking wine in the opening credits? Again, probably K-9’s fault. He also lets her get into a car and drive away after we see her drinking.
Seriously, K-9? You were programmed by the Doctor? Was he drunk?
Tell me your favorite robot faux pas below!
Ryan Britt is the staff writer for Tor.com.