7 Artificial Intelligence-based movie characters that are now a reality

“Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the science of how to get machines to do the things they do in the movies.”- Astro Teller

Do you remember HAL 9000- the know-all machine, Baymax- the personal healthcare robot, Ava- the human looking robot, and WALL-E- the cleaning robot? I am sure you do. After all, they are famous fictional AI characters that made every sci-fi aficionado go nuts growing up.

Apperceptive, self-aware robots are closer to becoming a reality than you think.

Now, what exactly is AI?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is defined as the ability of a machine or a computer program to think, learn, and act like a human being. The bottom-line of AI is to develop systems that exceed or at least equal human intelligence.

Sci-fi movies and TV shows have shown us multiple visions of how the future is going to be. The Jetsons, Ex Machina or Star Wars...they all had a unique take on what life would be like years later.

So, how real are these fictional characters? (Ignore the oxymoron) Where are we with the technology?

This article is sort of a brief history of AI with some fictional AI characters and their real counterparts to tell you how far we come on this amazing journey.

History of AI

We really can’t have history without some Greek bits thrown in. And unsurprisingly, the roots of AI can be traced back to Greek mythology. As the American author Pamela McCorduck writes, AI began with "an ancient wish to forge the gods."

Greek myths about Hephaestus, the blacksmith who manufactured mechanical servants, and the bronze man Talos, and the construction of mechanical toys and models such as those made by Archytas of Tarentum, Daedalus, and Hero are proof.

Alan Turing is widely credited for being one of the first people to come up with the idea of machines that think. He was a British mathematician and WWII code-breaker who created the Turing test to determine a machine’s ability to “think” like a human. Turing test is still used today.

His ideas were mocked at the time but they triggered an interest in the concept, and the term “artificial intelligence” entered public consciousness in the mid- 1950s, after Alan Turing died.

The field of AI research was formally founded in a workshop conducted by IBM at Dartmouth College during 1956. AI has flourished a lot since then.

Some fictional characters that are reality

The following is a list of some fictional AI characters and their real counterparts with the features.

HAL 9000 versus IBM Watson

Remember the iconic scene of the movie, "2001: A Space Odyssey" when HAL refuses to open the pod bay doors saying, "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that." If you don't remember, then take a look the clip below:

The movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" gave one of the world's best representations of AI in the form of HAL 9000.

HAL stands for Heuristically Programmed Algorithmic Computer. It is a sentient computer (or artificial general intelligence) says Wikipedia. And it was the on-board computer on the spaceship called Discovery 1.

It was designed to control the systems on the Discovery 1 spaceship and to interact with the astronaut crew of the spaceship. Along with maintaining all the systems on Discovery, it is capable of many functions such as speech recognition, lip reading, emotional interpretation, facial recognition, expressing emotions, and chess.

HAL is a projection of what a future AI computer would be like from a mid-1960s perspective.

The closest real counterpart to HAL 9000 that we can think of today is IBM Watson. It is a supercomputer that combines AI and analytical software. Watson was named after IBM's first CEO, Thomas J. Watson. Watson secured the first position in Jeopardy in 2011, after beating former winners Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings.

It is a “question answering” machine that is built on technologies such as advanced natural language processing, machine learning, automated reasoning, information retrieval, and much more.

According to IBM, "The goal is to have computers start to interact in natural human terms across a range of applications and processes, understanding the questions that humans ask and providing answers that humans can understand and justify."

Its applications in cognitive computing technology are almost endless. It can perform text mining and complex analytics on large volumes of unstructured data.

Unlike HAL, it is working peacefully with humans in various fields such as R&D Departments of companies as Coca-Cola and Proctor and Gamble to come with new product ideas. Apart from this, it is being used in healthcare industries where it is helping oncologists find new treatment methods for cancer. Watson is also used as a chatbot to provide the conversation in children's toys.

Terminator versus Atlas robots

One of the most recognizable movie entrances of all time is attributed to the appearance of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Terminator as the killer robot, T-800.

T-800, the Terminator robot, has living tissue over a metal endoskeleton. It was programmed to kill on behalf of Skynet.

Skynet, the creator of T-800, is another interesting character in the movie. It is a neural networks-based artificially intelligent system that has taken over the world's’ all computers to destroy the human race.

Skynet gained self-awareness and its creators tried to deactivate it after realizing the extent of its abilities. Skynet, for self-preservation, concluded that all of humanity would attempt to destroy it.

There are no AIs being developed yet which have self-awareness and all that are there are programmed to help mankind. Although, an exception to this is a military robot.

Atlas is a robot developed by the US military unit Darpa. It is a bipedal model developed by Boston Dynamics which is designed for various search and rescue activities.

A video of a new version of Atlas was released in Feb 2016. The new version can operate outdoors and indoors. It is capable of walking over a wide range of terrains, including snow.

Currently, there are no killer robots but there is a campaign going on to stop them from ever being produced, and the United Nations has said that no weapon should be ever operated without human control.

C-3PO versus Pepper

Luke: “Do you understand anything they’re saying?”
C-3PO: “Oh, yes, Master Luke! Remember that I am fluent in over six million forms of communication."

C-3PO or See-Threepio is a humanoid robot from the Star Wars series who appears in the original Star Wars films, the prequel, and sequel trilogy. It is played by Anthony Daniels in all the seven Star Wars movies. The intent of his design was to assist in etiquette, translations, and customs so that the meetings of different cultures can run smoothly. He keeps boasting about his fluency.

In real life too, companion robots are starting to take off.

Pepper is a humanoid robot designed by Aldebaran Robotics and SoftBank. It was introduced at a conference on June 5, 2014, and was first showcased in Softbank mobile phone stores in Japan.

Pepper is not designed as a functional robot for domestic use. Instead, Pepper is made with the intent of “making people happy," to enhance their lives, facilitate relationships, and have fun with people. The creators of Pepper are optimistic that independent developers will develop new uses and content for Pepper.

Pepper is claimed to be the first humanoid robot which is “capable of recognizing the principal human emotions and adapting his behavior to the mood of his interlocutor.”

WALL-E versus Roomba

WALL-E is the title character of the animated science fiction movie of the same name. He is left to clean up after humanity leaves Planet Earth in a mess.

In the movie, WALL-E is the only robot of his kind who is still functioning on Earth. WALL-E stands for Waste Allocation Loader Lift: Earth Class. He is a small mobile compactor box with all-terrain treads, three-fingered shovel hands, binocular eyes, and retractable solar cells for power.

A robot that is closely related to WALL-E is Roomba, the autonomous robotic vacuum cleaner though it is not half as cute as WALL-E.

Roomba is a series of vacuum cleaner robots sold by iRobot. It was first introduced in September 2002. It sold over 10 million units worldwide as of February 2014. Roomba has a set of basic sensors that enable it to perform tasks.

Some of its features include direction change upon encountering obstacles, detection of dirty spots on the floor, and sensing steep drops to keep it from falling down the stairs. It has two wheels that allow 360° movements.

It takes itself back to its docking station to charge once the cleaning is done.

Ava versus Geminoid

Ava is a humanoid robot with artificial intelligence shown in the movie Ex Machina. Ava has a human-looking face but a robotic body. She is an android.

Ava has the power to repair herself with parts from other androids. At the end of the movie, she uses their artificial skin to take on the full appearance of a human woman.

Ava gains so much intelligence that she leaves her friend, Caleb trapped inside, ignoring his screams, and escapes to the outside world. This is the kind of AI that people fear the most, but we are far away from gaining the intelligence and cleverness that Ava had.

People are experimenting with making robots that look like humans.

A geminoid is a real person-based android. It behaves and appears just like its source human. Hiroshi Ishiguro, a robotic engineer made a robotic clone of himself.

Hiroshi Ishiguro used silicon rubber to represent the skin. Recently, cosmetic company L'Oreal teamed up with a bio-engineering start-up called Organovo to 3D print human skin. This will potentially make even more lifelike androids possible.

Prof. Chetan Dube who is the chief executive of the software firm IPsoft, has also developed a virtual assistant called Amelia. He believes “Amelia will be given human form indistinguishable from the real thing at some point this decade.”

Johnny Cab versus Google self-driving car

The movie Total Recall begins in the year 2084, where a construction worker Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is having troubling dreams about the planet Mars and a mysterious woman there. In a series of events, Quaid goes to Mars where he jumps into a taxi called “Johnny Cab.”

The taxi is driver-less and to give it a feel like it has a driver, the taxi has a showy robot figure named Johnny which interacts with the commuters. Johnny ends up being reduced to a pile of wires.

Google announced in August 2012 that its self-driving car completed over 300,000 autonomous-driving accident-free miles. In May 2014, a new prototype of its driverless car was revealed. It was fully autonomous and had no steering wheel, gas pedal, or brake pedal.

According to Google's own accident reports, its test cars have been involved in 14 collisions, of which 13 were due to the fault of other drivers. But in 2016, the car's software caused a crash for the first time. Alphabet announced in December 2016 that the self-driving car technology would be under a new company called Waymo.

Baymax versus RIBA II

Remember the oscar winning movie Big Hero 6? I'm sure you do.

The story begins in the futuristic city of San Fransokyo, where Hiro Hamada, a 14-year-old robotic genius, lives with his elder brother Tadashi. Tadashi builds an inflatable robot medical assistant named Baymax.

Don Hall, the co-director of the movie said,  "Baymax views the world from one perspective — he just wants to help people; he sees Hiro as his patient."

In a series of events, Baymax sacrifices himself to save Hiro’s and Abigail’s (another character in the movie) lives. Later, Hiro finds his healthcare chip and creates a new Baymax.

In Japan, the elderly population in need of nursing care reached an astounding 5.69 million in 2015. So, Japan needs new approaches to assist care-giving personnel. One of the most arduous tasks for such personnel is lifting a patient from the floor onto a wheelchair.

In 2009, the RIKEN-TRI Collaboration Center for Human-Interactive Robot Research (RTC), a joint project established in 2007 and located at the Nagoya Science Park in central Japan, displayed a robot called RIBA designed to assist carers in the above-mentioned task.

RIBA stands for Robot for Interactive Body Assistance. RIBA was capable of lifting a patient from a bed onto a wheelchair and back. Although it marked a new course in the development of such care-giving robots. Some functional limitations have prevented its direct commercialization.

RTC’s new robot, RIBA-II has overcome these limitations with added functionalities and power.


Soon a time will come when we won’t need to read a novel or watch a movie to be teleported to a world of robots. Even then, let’s keep these fictional stories in mind as we stride into the future.

AI is here already and it will only get smarter with time. The greatest myth about AI is that it will be same as our own intelligence with the same desires such as greed, hunger for power, jealousy, and much more.

Read more on How Artificial Intelligence is rapidly changing everything around you!

About the Author

Rashmi Jain
I am trained to be a mathematician. I love teaching and music. When I am not at work you will find me cooking.