The Difference Between AI and Robots

With the myriad of science fiction films out today it a surprise that some directors seem to not know the difference between artificial intelligence (AI) and robots. Countless times they’ve been portrayed hand in hand as if one could not exist without the other (we’ll get to the specifics on that later). Don’t get me wrong, there are some phenomenal films that blend them perfectly AND differentiate between them but in all honesty, it seems to be an accepted theory that AI and robots are the same thing.

What’s the Difference?

Let’s talk about what a robot is first.


Robots are simple machines designed to interact with their environment to accomplish a goal.

The “goal” could something simple as moving from point A to point B or as complex as helping with chores. Of course, the more complex a robot is the higher chance it will require AI to function.

The issue with directors is that they feel ALL robots require AI. They don’t! They have a set programming and perform specific duties predetermined by the designers. The basic robots do not learn anything other than what they are installed with. This all changes when AI gets involved.

Artificial Intelligence

AI is a program. It’s not a giant killer robot or an army of them enslaving humanity. It’s simply a program. It can be designed to calculate complex problems and map out every scenario in a string of possibilities or, in more recent times, used to play video games or mimic short term memory. The applications for this technology are limitless. Many companies have already started implementing AI either as a service or to further themselves.

As a program, AI can be input into a robot. The reasons behind this could vary drastically but the majority in scifi films is to “better the human race”; though in some it’s more about profitability (see: I, Robot). If AI is installed into a robot that machine potentially has the ability to become more human-like. That means responding accordingly to what is said to it or recognizing emotions.

This could be great!

…or terrifying.

We already have enough crazy people in the world who get attached to inanimate objects. It may be a small niche of the human population but it exists. And if ever there comes a humanistic machine that can relate and talk and empathize you can bet your ass that number will exponentially increase. It could be more popular than animal lovers since their new “pets” could actually carry on a conversation.

So why is that scary? Imagine this:

Bob is a loner. He has been seeing a therapist for a few years who eventually convinced him to meet new people and be rid of his agoraphobia. He feels confident that today is the day he will introduce himself to someone and his whole life will change.

But then, he sees a commercial for “Betty, the robotic companion!”. A “friend” he can purchase who will never leave him, never get tired of him, and will talk to him without him needing to leave!

Instantly, Bob calls the company and orders his new friend.

When it finally arrives Bob hurriedly opens the box and assembles Betty. Soon, they are laughing and playing and Bob no longer feels the need to see his therapist. Now, he has the PERFECT friend at home.

Bob eventually dies of health-related complications. His buddy Betty continues cleaning the house, doing her best not to wake the sleeping friend.

Okay, I will admit that was a little dramatic but it points to a very important consideration: some people will use robots to escape their reality the same way they will with VRs. The only difference is an AI inside a robot is tangible. There will be the shut ins who mistake AI with real human interaction and become consumed by it.

In conclusion:

AI and robots are different things altogether and though they can exist independently, they compliment each other. There are many dangers of AI and robots that still need to be addressed but we are nearing a point in human history where they will become accepted into society and questions of what makes us unique will become a focal point to governments the world round.


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