One hundred years ago, a Czech playwright named Karel Capek coined the term robot. Right from the get-go, the overly negative murderous-machine trope took hold, and we haven't trusted a bot since.

Capek's robots were as homicidal as they were helpful. In the play, they end up going on a killing spree. Not surprising, his original bots inspired Terminator, Westworld, and a bunch of other machines that planted deep in our collective pop culture consciousness the idea that robots will outsmart us--and exterminate us.

The look of a robot over time

Since Capek's initial conceptualization, robots have undergone many iterations. At the start, they were less machine, more human form. They looked like us, and had a "chemical batter" for a body instead of the expected metal material and wires. 

After that, however, the robots in film, media, and art took on their more familiar machine identity. Think R2-D2, C-3PO, Rosey, Iron Giant, and the oh-so adorable WALL-E

As science fiction gave way to science fact, we now find ourselves creating robots in real life for a whole host of different reasons. And with advanced computational power and AI, our bots are becoming as smart (and soon as self-conscious) as those that George Lucas dreamed of 50 years ago.

Film creations have mirrored the changes. The artificial humans in movies like Ex Machina, Blade Runner, The Matrix, and Her are, on the surface, indistinguishable from a regular human being, and they mirror the rapidly advancing technologies in AI. 

Google knows about the Uncanny Valley

So the question is not only what do we want our robots to do, but also, what do we want our robots to look like? Google's latest creation harkens back to the old-school machine robots, less so the human-form android. 

This, I believe, is a careful choice on their part. 

A concept in aesthetic psychology called "the uncanny valley" is the relation between an object's degree of resemblance to a human and the emotional response (positive or negative) to that object. 

Objects, like some robots, that appear imperfectly human provoke uncanny or strange feelings of uneasiness and revulsion. Here's an example of a robot called Ameca that'll give you the heebie-jeebies. As our creations approach near perfect resemblance to human form, the valley of revulsion disappears and we go back to liking what we see. 

Google's decision to design a body that is nowhere near human likeness is an obvious attempt to keep clear of the uncanny valley and to therefore avoid any strong negative emotions directed towards it (or is it him or her?). It doesn't have a face, it has one arm with a clamp on the end of it that in no way mirrors a human hand or fingers.

The future of robots and AI

And you know what? I kind of like this robot. Or at least I'm ambivalent about it. It doesn't scare me. It doesn't make me feel uneasy or uncomfortable. And for a moment, I forget about the ridiculously powerful computer inside its head that is one of the smartest machines ever designed. 

I just see an obedient machine taking prompts from me, like "make me some popcorn" and "clean my toilet." I suppose, though, that by the time I do begin to fear it, it'll be too late.