Cyberphobia is an actual thing, and most of probably know at least one person with an extreme distrust of either computers or the digital world at large. Maybe it’s your Grandpa who refuses to input his credit card info over secure checkout. It could be your mom who gets mad when you watch protest videos on her computer for fear that “the government will show up and wonder what I was doing looking at this.” Or the cyberphobe in your life is that kid you knew in college who’s weirded out by the idea of a smart-app like AND CO.
And we get it. The tech can be intimidating for some folks, or seem a little too intense at times. Great artistic minds have capitalized on that and created compelling sci-fi narratives that feature dystopian landscapes where humanity is forced to bend the knee to our robotic overlords. But when you pause for a moment, you realize that pop culture is rife with examples of robots or humanoid tech doing some genuine good for us all. Like these robo-companions!
Clank (Ratchet & Clank)
This fun-sized hunk of metal is one of two main characters in the wildly popular video game franchise and the wildly unpopular film adaptation of the same name. Ratchet is destined to save the universe from any number of baddies, and anyone who’s played the games before knows that he couldn’t have done it without Clank. In fact, the game would have been frustratingly difficult without a robotic companion, and you probably would wind up smashing your TV and burning your console. Clank provides a major key to galactic success, allowing Ratchet to jump higher and longer, interact with otherwise hard to understand robotic beings, and provide access to hard to reach places. Oh, and Clank provides Ratchet with some company on those long space voyages, something so lonely that it can drive anyone crazy.
Going with some definition-bending here. In this film, Jake Sully uses this futuristic technology to project himself as an avatar of a humanoid creature. Let’s be honest for a moment: the movie wasn’t that great. It’s the Dances with Wolves Sequel nobody asked for. But if we could take away any lesson from this film, it’s that Sully’s embrace of this technology gave him the superhuman power of empathy. The naïve outsider learns the Na’vi way of life, develops a deep appreciation for the rich biodiversity of Pandora, and teams up with the native inhabitants to drive the settlers out of the Virginian forests and back across the Atlantic. Or something. But fine. The actual merits of the movie aside, the tech that allowed Sully to fully function as a Na’vi-Human hybrid is nothing short of amazing.
K.I.T.T. (Knight Rider)
The biggest mistake Netflix ever made is not including Knight Rider in its streaming options. Along with Miami Vice, Prince’s eyeliner, and Madonna’s “Material Girl”, Knight Rider just might be one of the most 80’s things to have ever existed. For the uninitiated, the series stars David Hasselhoff as LAPD detective Michael Knight… and more importantly William Daniels as the voice of KITT. The wry, AI-equipped Pontiac Trans Am predates the self-driving vehicles from Uber or Tesla, and lets Knight eat, read, or even play video games in transit. It just may be the coolest gadget in television history.
T-800 (Terminator 2)
Think about how dead John Connor would be without the Schwarzenegger T-800. Like many stories involving time-travel, the Terminator film series can seem a bit confusing at first. In the first film, he’s an all-out baddie. But he’s reprogrammed in the second pass to be the faithful protector of the Young Connor, to defend him from the T-1000. Sure, ol’ 800 seemed, er, emotionally lacking early on in the film. But it does show us cool it is for us to teach our humanoid/robot tech assistants to be more human. By the end of the movie, the T-800 performs an ultimate act of self-sacrifice. He gives moviegoers one of the weirdest thumbs up of all time and prompts Sarah Connor to reflect on the wonders of having a machine learn the value of human life.