Number of Androids on Spaceships

  • #1
Strato Incendus
149
16
Whether Data in Star Trek, C3PO in Star Wars, Isaac in The Orville, or Arthur in Passengers: It seems to be a common trope that a spaceship always has “that one android character”. For Star Wars, in particular, C3PO is the only named humanoid droid in the main movies; R2-D2 and all the other smaller droids that aren’t capable of verbal communication (at least not one that’s directly intelligible to the audience), while certainly counting as “robots”, wouldn’t count as “androids” to me.

However, if androids became as omnipresent as other shows focussing on AI — say, “Real Humans” (both the Swedish original and the English remake) or “Westworld” would have you believe — then it would be plausible to me that such androids would also comprise a higher share of any spaceship crew.

For my generation-ship story, so far I went along with that “one android” trope. Coincidentally, his name is also Arthur — though this has nothing to do with the movie Passengers; I already chose this name before being aware of that movie. Much like the name of my ship computer’s AI, IRIS, is a mixture of Iron Man’s “Jarvis” and Siri read backwards (I reverse engineered the German novel “Blueprint”, in which protagonist Iris names her cloned daughter Siri), Arthur’s name was in part inspired by Isaac from The Orville (because of YouTuber Isaac Arthur), in part by Arthur Schopenhauer.

Aside from Arthur, there are a bunch of smaller droids with dedicated purposes. Primarily, the cleaning robots WHO2 and 2C, working in tandem with WHO2 vacuuming and 2C wiping. (And yes, their names are really terrible puns, though they do serve to explain why these two always clean the ship together.)

The question is whether the default assumption wouldn’t in fact be for the ship to have a lot more higher-level androids, like Arthur. This debate is part of the first prequel:
Given that the market leader in androids, Companion Industries, makes their fortune by building loverbots, some of the project organisers are worried that a high number of androids on board would disincentivise the human crew members from entering relationships with other human beings — that a significant share of the crew would prefer one of these highly developed androids instead — thereby sabotaging the core requirement of the mission of any generation ship.
(Of course, there’s also the usual concern about “What if the AI takes over and starts suppressing the humans?” But if people have been living among androids for a while now, even if only with loverbots, the concern of an AI takeover may have diminished over the years.)

If the pairbonding argument is convincing, it would allow me to have a 24th-century Earth with plenty of androids — while still having a spaceship with only one android. Note that Arthur looks closer to The Orville’s Isaac, combined with the real-world android Ameca — he does not resemble an actual human being, like the Arthur we see in Passenger, not even like Data. While he was built from a decommissioned Companion model, he’s deliberately designed not to look human anymore, precisely to prevent anyone from among the crew from preferring him as a partner over a fellow human.

This distinction is then also vital for the ending of the trilogy: If there’s a situation where one crew member would have to stay behind somewhere to sacrifice themselves for the others, given our human-owngroup preference, a lot of readers would consider it a plothole if a human chooses to sacrifice themselves when there’s a bunch of androids who could to the job instead. The primary way of circumventing this argument, of course, would be to assign at least some level of rights to these androids — one that would be sufficient to prevent them from being treated as second-class citizens.

(This would of course be the perfect opportunity to quote the Star Trek episode “The Measure of a Man”.
I’m not sure how much I want to make my story depend on knowledge of Star Trek, though. It would make sense for the crew to have access to a bunch of old movies from Earth, stored on the ship servers. Whether they would regard Star Trek as an inspirational tale that boosts the morale of the crew — or as a fairytale that lies to people about the real physics of space travel, especially considering the contrast to the much slower interstellar travelling speeds they’re experiencing on a daily basis — is a matter of each character’s personal opinion.

Anyways, if androids do have rights in the future — or end up getting them over the course of the story — the only permissible way would be for an android to volunteer to stay behind. Coincidentally, like in Star Trek: Nemesis.)


So, in short: If you got to put together a spaceship crew, how many androids would be among them, and why? :)
 
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  • #2
It depends on the mission.

The primary purpose of the android(s) would be to physically operate as humans.
Most ship-board activities requiring automation would have no use for human form - for example, an exocomp (TNG Memory Alpha); backup systems; or autopilot/flight navigation systems.

Androids allow for on deck interaction - in contrast to interaction through a communication device (ex, computer workstation) or holodeck. They also allow for human like interactions outside of the main space ship.

If the mission does not include any of these activities, then it is worth asking
if people are needed as well.
People may:
1) have problem-solving skills that are not shared by the androids;
2) hold core values that are not well-communicated to machines;
3) be more trusted with critical corporate or national resources;
4) be part of the mission - for their entertainment, development of their skills, or to prepare them for critical military or political decisions.

Generally speaking, any one or two androids that are playing human-like roles would be able to upload any learning experiences they collected for incorporation in the memories of other (or future) androids.
 
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  • #3
Do you think it likely that a ship might carry a number of carcinoids?
And not like dr. Zoidberg who´s supposedly "decapod" and yet shows just four limbs and stands bipedal.
 
  • #4
First, a story about robots talking to other robots is unlikely to hold the interest of people.

Second, why do you need two? You start going down the path of needing lots to operate this and that, why do you make them human-shaped. Cut out the middleman and have things operated by computer.

Third, in most stories androids are rare and/or expensive. So there aren't many of them. An exception is Brin's Kiln People, where they are cheap and ubiquitous. In his world, your starrship would likely have plenty of them.
 
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  • #5
.Scott said:
The primary purpose of the android(s) would be to physically operate as humans.
Most ship-board activities requiring automation would have no use for human form - for example, an exocomp (TNG Memory Alpha); backup systems; or autopilot/flight navigation systems.

Androids allow for on deck interaction - in contrast to interaction through a communication device (ex, computer workstation) or holodeck. They also allow for human like interactions outside of the main space ship.
Androids can physically operate as humans, but so can gynoids.
Some automated systems can be "computers" physically affixed to the vehicle structure. An autopilot does not have to be android like Otto the autopilot.
However, there are tasks which favour flexibility in mobility, handling diverse artefacts and tools, and capability of communicating with people in natural language - theirs. Cleaning robots are a good example!
If your starship is cleaned by steward/esse/s, maids and lackeys, they may be able to communicate with their masters in a natural language - not a given, given the tendency to employ aliens in service roles! - but they face limitations of human body shape, intelligent adult body size, memory and attention capacity, bandwidth of communication with each other and trust issues due to having their own motives and wishes.
Human body shape is not actually optimal for machine locomotion. Just two legs specialized for walking... If your cleaning robot has to climb over piles of valuable stuff masters have left lying around, eight legged freaks might have rather less effort keeping balance than maids and lackeys, or gynoids and androids.
The ability to interact by human speech is important. "Hey, girl! Where is my...?" It is very useful if the hearer actually understands - or if the reference is ambiguous or not recognized, is able to respond efficiently with clarifying questions.
But a human would genuinely face limits of her attention and memory if she did not think the thing important. And the limits of bandwidth - if another maid moved it, would they have thought it relevant to tell each other? Plus the trust issues - if a maid tells "I never saw it", is she telling what she genuinely knows? Is she covering up for her blunder? Did she intentionally steal it for her own benefit? Did she discard or hide the item out of spite and malice for the master?
Apart from memory and reliability of anyone of eight legged freaks, they can have high bandwidth like wifi connections to each other and to stationary cameras fixed to the ship walls. So if you ask one of eight legged freaks about a mislaid item, she might promptly run a query across the memory of herself, all of the other seven legged freaks and the fixed cameras, locate the item and send the nearest legged freak to fetch it.
So, is it likely that a ship contains multiple independently mobile robots who are capable of communicating in human tongue to people, high bandwidth wi-fi to each other and stationary computers, but who are neither androids nor gynoids but eight legged carcinoids?
 
  • #6
I've always been sceptical of androids. It seems to me to be a cheap plot device. A good example (of a cheap plot device) is Alien: Covenant 2017 or even Blade Runner. They're there so audiences can confuse them and be surprised (very mildly) when they turn out to be evil. There's are so far between stories where androids are driving a good story. A rare example is this one (which I'm aware I mentioned before):

High Quality Comic Featuring an Android Driving the Story (beware of a plethora of ads)

If you want to create an effective robot I can see no purpose in making it look human. I mean why would you even purposefully make that confusion? For educating children maybe? That's kinda the only reason can see, but it's still pretty creepy.

EDIT: OTOH I have no doubt it's gonna happen.
 
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  • #7
Thanks a lot for your ideas! :) I think these two are connected:

Vanadium 50 said:
Third, in most stories androids are rare and/or expensive. So there aren't many of them. An exception is Brin's Kiln People, where they are cheap and ubiquitous. In his world, your starrship would likely have plenty of them.
sbrothy said:
If you want to create an effective robot I can see no purpose in making it look human. I mean why would you even purposefully make that confusion? For educating children maybe? That's kinda the only reason can see, but it's still pretty creepy.

There’s a simple reason to create a bunch of robots that are cheap to afford and look human: Sex sells. What drove the success of VHS and the internet will also apply to robotics. Rule 34 knows no exceptions. :wink:

(This was, btw, part of how the android-focused game NieR: Automata attempted to “justify” the aesthetics of its fetishised female androids with in-game reasoning. The androids were supposedly then repurposed to get aroused by combat instead.)

Regarding the educating children part: The “creepiness” factor — in other words, the uncanny valley — is useful for the debate in the prequel. I’ve found that a lot of the arguments relating to androids are similes to current hotbutton topics:
  • I’ve always joked that the vegans of today will be the robots-rights activists of tomorrow: When lab-grown meat is the primary form of meat, the connection between meat consumption and animal suffering is severed via technology — much like the birth-control pill separated intimacy and pregnancy, and thereby kickstarted new political developments. So while meat is no longer a controversial topic in the future, androids are — namely, the more intelligent they become, potentially even self-aware, the higher the danger of reintroducing slavery through the backdoor (the “Measure of a Man” argument).
  • As to what human beings “use” robots for: Those who prefer a robot to a human partner (robosexuals) would likely associate themselves with the LGBT community, leading to an expansion of the acronym in my version of the future (LGBTQIAVOR, with V for virtual, O for objectophile, R for robosexual). Some people then want their robot partners to be treated like humans — facing the conundrum that, if robots gain human rights, owning a loverbot would become slavery, indeed.
  • Simultaneously, for more conservative types, the question of “who teaches my children and what do they teach them” remains relevant — and is amplified by the knowledge that the most popular android types are indeed still the loverbots. So the fear about “oversexualisation” remains alive and well.
 
  • #8
Strato Incendus said:
[...]I’ve always joked that the vegans of today will be the robots-rights activists of tomorrow[...]

In which movie or comic does a character complain what it even means to be a vegan in a virtual world like The Matrix? I think it's Arcadia. (readcomicsonline.li, again sorry for the ads). Cool story actually. Contains some good ideas and a good premise, although it get's a bit much at the end...

"What It Is: When 99% of humankind is wiped out by a pandemic, four billion people are "saved" by being digitized at the brink of death and uploaded into Arcadia, a utopian simulation in the cloud. But when Arcadia begins to rapidly deplete the energy resources upon which the handful of survivors in the real world (aka "The Meat") depends, how long will The Meat be able-and willing-to help?"

Just for the record I'm not affiliated with that site, I just use it a lot. You'll need an ad-blocker and make sure you set it to show all pages as opposed to one page at the time.
 
  • #9
sbrothy said:
I've always been sceptical of androids. It seems to me to be a cheap plot device. A good example (of a cheap plot device) is Alien: Covenant 2017 or even Blade Runner. They're there so audiences can confuse them and be surprised (very mildly) when they turn out to be evil. There's are so far between stories where androids are driving a good story. A rare example is this one (which I'm aware I mentioned before):

High Quality Comic Featuring an Android Driving the Story (beware of a plethora of ads)

If you want to create an effective robot I can see no purpose in making it look human. I mean why would you even purposefully make that confusion? For educating children maybe? That's kinda the only reason can see, but it's still pretty creepy.

EDIT: OTOH I have no doubt it's gonna happen.

Now I'm already endorsing this site to the point of nausea you should check out the story "Sentient". It also features a plot-driving robot/AI. Not an android but, in my opinion a very realistic take on how we would use robots "25 minutes into the future".

Oh, it's 20 minutes.
 
  • #10
Any comments about the likelyhood of carcinoids, or other therioids?
 

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