It's Sunday afternoon, and my wife and I are watching Bicentennial Man with Robin Williams, a fascinating but little-known movie from 1999 (originally a short story by Isaac Asimov). It didn't get great reviews, but I really enjoyed it. The story is about an independently-intelligent robot named Andrew who, ironically, teaches us a lot about humanity.
"I can't believe I finally found you," he says. "When did you know... that you were unique?" She tells him that she knew immediately, but as they continue talking, Andrew learns that this "female" android isn't like him. She cannot think for herself or make independent choices. She is merely programmed to have personality.
In one of the best lines of the film, his hopeful companion explains, "I think personality is much more fun than intelligence." This is what is wonderful about an Asimov story - he uses technology and futuristic settings to make astute social criticisms that are relevant to any age.
Andrew continues his quest for a companion and eventually finds one in an unlikely place - the granddaughter of his master's daughter. Through this friendship, he grows to appreciate the fact that the best things that we humans enjoy are the same things that destroy us. As Andrew becomes more human, he willingly gives up his immortality, his ability to withstand disease, time, and the elements for the sake of being fully alive.
Eventually, the robot-man puts on human skin, falls in love, obtains vital organs, and eventually dies. Bicentennial Man teaches us that one of the best parts about life is that it's limited, fragile, and vulnerable.
There is another scene where Andrew is talking to his scientist friend Rupert about the mystery of life and love, of losing yourself in another person, and all the other irrational things he's heard about. Rupert asks him, "Would you like to experience that?" Andrew responds that he would and Rupert says in agreement, "So would I."
What we learn from Bicentennial Man is that you can technically be alive and still not be living. Life is more than just making all the right decisions or playing it safe. Life is about risk and chance. It's about making mistakes and following your heart. Life is about being caught up in the messes and romances that carry us away.
Those of us who are religious sometimes forget our humanness. In our attempts to not sin - to be holy and righteous - we discard the wonder of humanity, of being created in the image of something beautiful and miraculous, something that is quite personal and doesn't always compute. Perhaps, we've been too rigid with our humanity. Perhaps, we all have something to learn from Andrew about intelligence, free will, and love. Perhaps, we can all learn to say, along with him: "I would rather die a man than to live for all eternity as a machine."
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Analysis: Bicentennial Man
In the movie, Bicentennial Man, “Andrew” starts out as a household robot that is simply created to take orders and perform them in order to please his owners. Andrew seems to gradually develop from a mechanical robot into a very convincing human-like robot and eventually asks to be declared a human by the court. Finally on his second try, Andrew is given the name, a human by the court, soon after he passed away. The philosophical question posed in the movie is what makes human beings different from robots or computers. Bicentennial Man not only addresses this question, but also helps to draw conclusions. A robot can be identical to a human; however, it cannot be a human because to be a human, the entity must posses the qualities of having emotions, being imperfect, and being mortal.
Regarding the Bicentennial Man, we may understand that an entity can be a human on the outside, but can never be a human on the inside, only identical. In my opinion, at the point right before his death, Andrew was exactly identical to a human being. That being said, he was not a human being, but rather identical. This is because being human is about being imperfect, having the ability to make mistakes and learn from them. At the beginning of the movie Andrew was robot in it’s fullness, because he was always perfect and made no mistakes. In his early stages, Andrew tries to add human-like features to his body, such as a Central Nervous System, skin, and working organs, thinking that those were the only things that separated him from becoming a human. The first time Andrew approaches the court in an attempt to gain the approval to become a human, his argument is that he may be a robot in the brain, but is human everywhere else. He believed his argument to be valid because the judge, who is human, has some of the artificial organs that Andrew has designed, and is yet still considered...