Continuing here our rundown of my 60 Favorite Fictional Artificial Intelligences.
This means things like robots, holograms, sentient computers, and so on from movies, TV shows, comics or books.
You can have a look here for Part One, which includes some of the rationale for this list, as well as some of the explanations and qualifications.
So, to continue…
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Lore doesn’t have a mustache, but if he did, he would twirl it–he’s just that sort of villain. Lore is the evil twin brother of the popular Star Trek: The Next Generation character Data. But where Data is innocent and curious, Lore is cunning and selfish. The show sometimes tried to play off the duality of the “brothers,” showing how the character’s insecurity and jealously informed his motivations, but most of the time he was just sort of generically bad. Still, he was a fun villain who is well played by the versatile Brent Spiner.
Given how obvious of a concept Lore is, it’s a little surprising he didn’t end up getting overused, but not overused, but ultimately Lore only turned up for four episodes (including one two-parter), the best of which was season fours Brothers.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Eddie is our second ship-board computer (but not our last), and our first overtly comedic one (but not our last). He is of course the most upbeat and positive one of the lot–maybe the most upbeat fictional A.I. on this list.
That’s because he’s equipped with a Genuine People Personality from the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation–this makes him unbelievably chirpy, at least most of the time. Later in the story his backup personality gets activated and he turns into dowdy and controlling mother-figure.
Eddie is usually voiced by David Tate, but was performed by Roger Gregg in later radio serials and by Thomas Lennon in the 2005 movie.
Booster Gold (DC Comics)
One of the classic archetypes for your fictional A.I.’s is the robotic sidekick. We’ve had one or two of those so far, and we have another example here in Skeets. Skeets was originally a “BX9” security drone in the Space Museum in the 25th Century, who became a confidante (and at times conscience) in disgraced football star Michael Jon Carter’s quest for celebrity in the 20th century as the superhero Booster Gold, created by Dan Jurgens. One of Skeets’ main responsibilities was to provide Booster with knowledge of future historical events.
One of the most notable appearances of Skeets is from the weekly “real time” series 52, where Skeets at first seemed to be identifying anomalies in the timeline, but was later revealed to be actually lying, and indeed, to have gone evil. Eventually, it was revealed that Skeets had actually been taken over by the Mister Mind (a character who for sure will be on my list of Favorite Fictional Worms someday).
Later, he got better and was back to being the same old Skeets.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Given how long it’s been around and how many episodes and stories there are, it’s a little surprising that Star Trek is not more overloaded with Artificial Intelligences. But a good number of the ones it does have that have been done very well. In some cases, that’s because it’s had years of episodes to develop the characters, but with Lal, there is just a single story–the Next Generation episode entitled, “The Offspring,” by René Echevarria.
“The Offspring” is about the android Data deciding to build an android child. “Lal” starts off featureless and genderless (and played by Leonard Crofoot) and eventually adopts the form of a fetching human female (Hallie Todd). Lal makes our list largely because of Todd’s performance, who is able to instill in the character the same blend o innocent curiosity and emotional stillness that her “father” has. Maybe most touching of all is that the that she exceeds her father’s emotional capacity, even in her tragically short life.
Star Trek: Lower Decks
Star Trek strikes again, and for the first time, we move out of Next Generation to the modern decade of Trek, and our very first animated character–Badgey, from Lower Decks.
Badgey is a hologram in the shape of a talking Starfleet badge created by Ensign Rutherford to help people learn the ship’s systems (users of Microsoft computers from decades ago will recognize that it is a clear parody of the real-life digital assistant called “Clippy”). Unfortunately, as many of these A.I.’s tend to do, he malfunctions and turns eeeeevil. And because of Rutherford’s failure to deal with the problem completely, Badgey ends up going on two different near-murderous rampages.
Badgey is voiced by Jack McBrayer (best known for 30 Rock and Wreck-It Ralph) and is a great example of the sort of thing that Lower Decks is good at–taking genuinely Star Trek-ish concepts and playing up the irreverent humor of it.
The Black Hole
I don’t remember The Black Hole very well, but it was a big deal back when I was a kid, when we were all looking for the next Star Wars. I was tempted to include V.I.N.CENT on this list but the character is just so derivative that I couldn’t do it.
But I will include Maximilian, the über-creepy manservant robot to the crazed Dr. Reinhardt. Maximilian is roughly humanoid but monstrously tall and completely devoid of humanity–a cold, emotionless devil-like figure who emanates cruelty, particularly when he murders Alex Durant, and stands motionless over the pinned Dr. Reinhardt during the movie’s climax.
At the very end of The Black Hole, there is a surreal sequence in which Reinhardt seems to merge into Maximilian (literally becoming trapped inside of him) and then stands overlooking a bizarre hellish landscape. I’m not sure what to think of it all, but it sure made Maximilian more memorable!
A “parallel hybrid” computer who oversaw the workings of Project Quantum Leap, the time travel experiment which sent Dr. Sam Beckett on a journey into other people’s lives throughout his own lifetime. Ziggy is mentioned in most episodes of Quantum Leap, usually as a source of historical data and speculation which was offered via Al Calavicci to help Dr. Beckett on his never-ending mission. Ziggy actually appeared in only a handful of episodes, starting with the opening of the fourth season. She was voiced by one of the series senior producers and writers, Deborah Pratt, which was funny since for most of the series to that point Ziggy had been referred to as a “he”.
Ziggy had an amusingly snarky personality with a quick wit that livened up her scenes. It was just a shame there weren’t more of them–her role on the show was all-too-brief.
41. Talkie Toaster
Noted science fiction author Philip K. Dick at least once expressed his paranoia over technology by saying he wasn’t afraid a nuclear missile controlling supercomputer, but rather the day when his toaster would tell him what he needed to eat for breakfast. Well, that idea finds a humorous expression in the form of Talkie Toaster from several episodes of the science fiction comedy series, Red Dwarf.
Voiced originally by John Lenahan and later by David Ross, was an artificially intelligent appliance relentlessly driven to try to get all the people around him to eat toast and toast-like products. His single-minded obsession led Dave Lister to destroy him at least once. In-universe, Talkie Toaster was manufactured by Crapola Inc, identified as a Taiwanese company.
Red Dwarf is actually full of A.I.’s–and not just the two regular characters who just might show up on his countdown later. Amongst other things the show includes automated food dispensers, suitcases and even toilets, all with their own level of intelligence. Most notably, there are the Skutters (se the picture up top)–anonymous little robots which fulfill a whole variety of menial tasks, but which often show an awful lot of personality.
40. Cylon Centurions
Truth be told, I rarely watched the original Battlestar Galactica from the 1970’s, but even I know the Cylons because of their distinctive and iconic visuals–militaristic androids with sleek silver armor and a single oscillating red light for an eye.
Of course, they were also obviously guys in robot suits, which the rebooted series from the 2000’s completely changed up. There the most important Cylons were completely human looking (there will be a couple of these individuals on this countdown later), but the robotic Centurions were present as well, albeit significantly redesigned and created with CGI. Even more interesting, the Cylon Raiders (their fighters) were now Cylons themselves, with as much intelligence and free will (or lack of it, as the series went on to explore) as the foot-soldier Centurions.
Lots of other science fiction franchises have had hordes of enemy robots (we’re looking at you, Stars Wars prequels) but rarely have the designs been as interesting and memorable as the Cylons.
Legion of Super-Heroes (DC Comics)
Computo was a giant super-computer built by genius Brainiac 5 of the Legion of Super-Heroes, to assist him with his lab work. Computo, however, sees things differently and decides to rebuild himself into an ultimate form which will allow him to conquer earth. And he very nearly succeeds! He even manages to pull off the rare feat of killing a Legionnaire (sort of–he kills off one of Triplicate Girl’s duplicates).
Computo, originally created in real life by Jerry Siegel and Curt Swan, returned many times in multiple continuities, developing it seems an increasing fixation on his “father” (a fairly common trope for a lot of fictional A.I.’s). In these various appearances he has adopted many different forms, including appearing as a humanoid, and even inhabiting the body of human being.
In the original continuity, Computo was eventually reprogrammed into a friendly and helpful majordomo that oversaw the Legion headquarters. This definitely made some of the members nervous, but their concern apparently never amounted to anything.
38. TARS & CASE
TARS and CASE were two of several former US Marine robots that appeared in the movie Interstellar, directed by Christopher Nolan. In the story these machines had been repurposed to be part of the crews for a space mission tasked with find a planet that would be suitable to house the human race. TARS and CASE were assigned to the Endurance along with most of the film’s main characters, where they ended up not only surviving but being instrumental to the mission’s success. TARS in particular helped collect essential information from within a black hole, which became key to humanity’s survival.
In appearance, the two robots at first resembled large rectangular boxes, but could quickly adapt their form via a series of pivoting angular limbs, allowing great versatility of movement.
They were performed by actors Bill Irwin (TARS) and Josh Stewart (CASE). TARS in particular had a flippant and even sarcastic personality, the result of an effort to make him more relatable to humans. The juxtaposition of their fairly normal voices along with their utterly inhuman appearance makes for a weird effect, but also makes them some of cinema’s most unique robots.
One of Our Thursdays is MIssing by Jasper Fforde.
You’ve never heard of Sprockett? He was a fictional robotic butler that got involved in the disappearance of the famed agent of both Jurisfiction and SpecOps 27, Thursday Next. What, you’re confused? Because all of these AI’s are fictional? Yes, that’s true, but this one is actually fictional within the confines of the story. And the person he is assisting is also fictional…indeed she is a fictional version of Thursday Next. Both characters come from the “Bookworld” (the world behind the pages, so to speak, where characters and plots are developed and “performed” for the readers).
Sprockett is a fun character, and the first on this list who I have encountered mainly in a book. He’s a helpful and intelligent assistant to the written Thursday, who has a handy “emotion” indicator where his eyebrow should be. Sprockett is inspired in many ways by Tik-Tok, a character from L. Frank Baum’s Oz books that I’m generally unfamiliar with, personally.
And that’s the end of Part Two. This time around we’ve had five full-on villains, plus one part-time villain (Skeets), and one nuisance (Talkie Toaster). But there are lots of good guys as well. We’ve also had our first character exclusively from comics (Computo) and our very first character who is only from a book.
Next up: Part Three! (coming soon)