The Robot as Other: Sartre and Television Portrayals of Humanoid Robots in "Almost Human" and "Humans"

Karen S Hanson, Salve Regina University


Portrayals of humanoid robots in television series draw heavily from the historical and cultural mythology of robots. This mythology is expressed in two contemporary television series, Almost Human and Humans, in which robots are depicted as closely resembling humans in physical appearance and behavior and as fulfilling social roles usually occupied by humans. The robots are imagined with characteristics associated with human consciousness, such as emotions, individuality, and free will. An analysis of the robots in these series, using Jean-Paul Sartre’s theories of consciousness and the Other, demonstrates that when the robots are depicted as conscious, the relationship between a human and robot is portrayed as one of human-to-human (or human-to-Other), not human-to-technology. Sartre’s philosophy helps describe the human characters’ fascination and fear of the robots as resulting from their perceptions of the Other’s shifting status of object and subject and the unpredictability associated with the Other’s freedom. Thus, it is not the machine aspects of the robot that are desired and feared, but the humanness within the machine. Viewed in this way, the humanoid robot as depicted these television series represents a continuing effort to define and describe the essence of humanity in a society where the boundaries between machines and humans are becomingly increasingly blurred.

Subject Area

Philosophy of Science|Mass communications

Recommended Citation

Hanson, Karen S, "The Robot as Other: Sartre and Television Portrayals of Humanoid Robots in "Almost Human" and "Humans"" (2016). Doctoral Dissertations. AAI10266610.