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Robots and cyborgs in fact


A machine which is a mechanical device, possibly with some degree of autonomous software reasoning faculties and sensors, which is designed to carry out actions automatically or of its own volition.


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  • Oxford dictionary
  • 1. a machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically, especially one programmable by a computer, 2. a machine resembling a human being and able to replicate certain human movements and functions automatically.

  • Encyclopedia Britannica
  • any automatically operated machine that replaces human effort, though it may not resemble human beings in appearance or perform functions in a humanlike manner.

  • Merriam-Webster
  • 1. a machine that looks like a human being and performs various complex acts (as walking or talking) of a human being, 2. a device that automatically performs complicated often repetitive tasks, 3. a mechanism guided by automatic controls.

  • a robot is an automatic mechanical device often resembling a human or animal. Modern robots are usually an electro-mechanical machine guided by a computer program or electronic circuitry. Robots can be autonomous or semi-autonomous.


Leonardo da Vinci drew many designs of automatons
Leonardo da Vinci drew many designs of automatons

There is a good consensus about what constitutes a robot. The degree to which a robot resembles a human being has gradually lost importance over the decades since the first use of the term. It should be noted that robots, as clockwork people and animals, have been playthings of royal courts for centuries, and Leonardo Da Vinci had designed humanlike lifesize dolls with some functionality.

The Americans were the first to employ robots, albeit non-autonomous, manually-controlled, in combat

Today, robots may not resemble humans at all, in fact they may not even be physical devices, as in computer programmes, such as search engine robots. However, they usually involve mechanical devices with electronic operating systems, and a certain degree of autonomy, in motion and in decision-making.

Where there is lively debate about future developments lies in the realm of AI, artificial intelligence, and whether robots will develop self-replication and complexities which exceed human capacity to retain control and understanding. The 'technological singularity' describes the scenario of the supposed inevitable moment when robots 'take over' due to the loss of control of humans over the ongoing development of robots and computer systems in general. Frightening stuff!


From Czech, from robota 'forced labour'. The term was coined in K. Čapek's play R.U.R. 'Rossum's Universal Robots' (1920).


  • Oxford dictionary
  • a robot with a human appearance

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    Japanese mannequin, android or robot?
  • Merriam-Webster
  • a mobile robot usually with a human form

  • a robot or synthetic organism designed to look and act like a human, especially one with a body having a flesh-like resemblance. Until recently, androids have largely remained within the domain of science fiction, frequently seen in film and television. However, advancements in robot technology have allowed the design of functional and realistic humanoid robots.


Androids are definitely human in form, but the definitions do not state that their purpose is to eleviate human labour, which is the case with robots. Androids are probably a sub-set of robots. Japan has been a leading research centre for android and robotic development. A lot of discussion revolves around the Turing Test, but to be an android people do not necessarily need to be fooled into thinking you are human.

On the other hand, if they do pass the Turing Test, maybe they are among us already....


Early 18th century, from modern Latin androides, from andro-(from Greek anēr, andr- 'man') + -oid (from modern Latin -oides, from Greek -oeidēs; related to eidos 'form'). The first uses of the term date back to the 1860s - so predates 'robot' by 70 years!


  • Oxford dictionary
  • a fictional or hypothetical person whose physical abilities are extended beyond normal human limitations by mechanical elements built into the body.

  • Merriam-Webster
  • a bionic human, whose body contains mechanical or electrical devices and whose abilities are greater than the abilities of normal humans

  • a being with both organic and biomechatronic parts. The term cyborg is often applied to an organism that has restored function or enhanced abilities due to the integration of some artificial component or technology that relies on some sort of feedback.


Cyborgs are more sinister than androids on the scale of eeky suggestibility. Androids start out as living organisms, usually humans, and gain physical enhancements through exchanges of body parts by mechanical or electrical devices, even weapons. People with prosthetic limbs, organs, and even cochlea implants could be classed as cyborgs. You might be one yourself.

Although parts were interchanged between different humans, the monster stitched together by Dr. Frankenstein is not a cyborg, since all parts were living. Cybermen are not robots because they are structured around humans, so are a combination of human and robot. It needs to be debated whether daleks are living creatures operating a robotic exoskeleton, or are integrated enough with the robotic parts to constitute cyborgs.

Cybernetics would include prosthetics


1960s: blend of cyber- and organism, as in 'cybernetic organism'.


Cybernetics is related to regulation in a dynamic system. It comes from Greek kybernetes meaning 'governor' or 'pilot'. The French physicist André-Marie Ampère coined the word 'cybernetique' in 1834 to describe the study of governmental systems.

Strictly speaking, cybernetics is more about control than physical form. One of nature's more insidious survival strategies is for one species to use another species as a host, vehicle, and even slave. Parasites have learnt how to control the minds and behaviours of their hosts in many ways. This makes the host a 'cyborg'.


A horror theme of science-fiction is the invasion of the body and mind by a parasite intelligence, which then takes over. We know because the eyes will change colour to some sinister hue of orange or green, and the actor suddenly becomes clunky and stiff in movement, and stares unnaturally. Super-human strength/powers usually help the plot at this point, and colonies of these take-overs will inevitably have spooky communal cognition.

The inspiration for this freaky scenario is even more frightening. In nature, there are many parasites, bacteria, worms and fungi, whose survival involves taking over larger creatures for their nefarious purposes. These often include behavioural changes which ensure they become part of someone else's foodchain.

Rat Davids

One of these parasites, a bacteria, infests the brains of rats, causing them to be 'fearless' in the face of cats, who are not too puzzled to accept the free meal. The bacteria carries out its family planning thing in the cosy gut of the cat, and the bacterial colony gets itself distributed to the broader world in the faeces. This offering gets ingested by the next unsuspecting rat, who then becomes fearless and turns into a David in search of feline Goliath ....

The trematode flatworm
The trematode flatworm causes deadly deformities to a frog, making it easy prey

Frog Hitchhiking

A similar process occurs in the acquatic environment. In many lakes and ponds of western USA and Canada, the larvae of a parasitic flatworm [trematode] plants itself on the skin of a tadpole, causing the frog which develops to grow one or more extra hind legs. This frog, far from having super-frog abilities, is hampered in its movements by the extra appendages, and ends up readily on a stork's menu. And the worm has found itself an air service distribution system! The stork flies afar, dropping the worm eggs into other waterbodies, where they infest snails. When they are ready to move on, along comes a tadpole......

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis
Ophiocordyceps unilateralis exploding from the head of a carpenter ant

Aliens in our midst

In the rainforests of Thailand and Brazil, a rather vicious form of parasitism is employed by a fungus [Ophiocordyceps unilateralis], prosaically nicknamed the zombie fungus, which infects the brain of an ant. This ant, of the carpenter ant species (Camponotus leonardi), then gets taken over by the fungi, involuntarily being forced to climb to a high location (the underside of a leaf will do), where it latches on while the passenger grows out of its cranium (or ant version of such). After killing the poor old ant, the fungus can send its spores far and wide on the wind, to find another ant.....

Science fact is always stranger then science fiction....

Content © Renewable.Media. All rights reserved. Created : October 30, 2014 Last updated :October 30, 2015

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