Sightings: Robotic AI Beings

[For those who still cannot get their heads around intelligent artificial beings.]

by T. L. Keller

AI                                                        Artificial Intelligence.  The capability of computers or programs to operate in ways believed to mimic human thought processes, such as reasoning and learning

DARPA                                                Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a division of the US Department of Defense.

humanoid                                            nearly human, as in appearance and behavior.

robot                                                   any anthropomorphic mechanical being built to do manual work for human beings.

Turing test     a test formulated by the late British mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing in the early 1950sto test whether an AI device could simulate human responses to a series of verbal questions.


Artificial intelligence (AI) is defined as the capability of computers or programs to operate in ways believed to mimic human thought processes, such as reasoning and learning.  Among post-WWII cinematic presentations, many readers will recall “Gort” from the film The Day the Earth StoodStill(1951) and “Robby The Robot” from Forbidden Planet (1956).  Are those examples of AI?  The simple answer would be, strictly, yes.  They both understood verbal commands, had reasoning capability and were adaptable to learning.  But they did not have the human-like touch.

In the 2014 science-fiction, psychological thriller film Ex Machina, a computer programmer is invited by his CEO (played by Oscar Isaac) to a remote laboratory to administer the Turing test to an intelligent humanoid robot called “Eva” (played by Alicia Vikander). Eva has all of the outward appearances of a human woman (as long as you don’t look too closely).  The hitch is that Eva doesn’t know that she is non-human and that she lives in a robotic laboratory and not a private residence. Eventually, she becomes aware of what (or who) she is, reacts violently to her new reality and escapes to the outside world.  She then becomes a former, female machine (thus the title Ex Machina).

“Eva” of Ex Machina [1]

In 1987, Star Trek: The Next Generationpremiered on the small screen.  Suddenly, we had the human-like character, “Data,” who though physically electro-mechanical, was decidedly human in many ways and could easily pass the Turing test.  In fact, Data realized that he was not human, but endeavored to be human.  Data (played by Brent Spiner) even tried to mimic humans by developing a sense of humor (mostly using loud guffaws at inappropriate times).  This may have been the first cinematic appearance of a humanoid robot placed in a command position (as the science officer) aboard an interstellar starship.

“Data” of Star Trek: The Next Generation

Current Developments in Civilian Robotics

DLR (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V.) is otherwise known as the German Aerospace Center located in Cologne, Germany.  DLR is engaged in a wide range of research and development projects including robotics.  DLR’s “Toro” AI robot has been developed to execute rudimentary aircraft assembly work.  In the Breakthrough: The Ideas That Changed The Worlddocumentary series aired on PBS-TV.  Toro is able to stand on a bed of foam cushions without discernable loss of balance and has the ability to (slowly) lean forward to perform work.

Human minder and “Toro,” the AI robot [3]

Also featured in the Breakthrough documentary is a robot called “iCub,” developed by the Robocub Consortium in Italy.  iCub is a child-size humanoid robot capable of crawling, grasping, and interacting with people. It’s designed as an open source platform for research in robotics and AI.  The iCub robot has been designed around the performance of domestic and household work. Like the DLR Toro robot, iCub is a slow learner and grasping/walking is undertaken quite slowly.  As with both Toro and iCub, one would have to speed up the action four times or so to look like normal human activity.

“iCub” robot [4]

Current Developments in Military Robotics

In the 1984 film Terminator, a time-traveling cyborg from the year 2029 arrives in Los Angeles.  Skynet has assigned the “Terminator” to assassinate Sarah Conner, the mother of a future General John Conner.   A living organic skinand human clothing covered the Terminator’s endoskeleton and appeared to be human in every aspect (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the future governor of California).  Sounds unlikely, right?

T-800 “Terminator” endoskeleton {5]

Boston Dynamics, a Google company, has been developing the military equivalent of the Terminator and has made considerable progress in that endeavor.  “Atlas” is the latest in a line of advanced humanoid robots they are developing for DARPA (see sidebar).  Atlas’ control system coordinates motions of the arms, torso and legs to achieve whole-body mobile manipulation, greatly expanding its reach and workspace.  Atlas’ ability to balance while performing tasks allows it to work in a large volume while occupying only a small footprint.  Atlas is fully articulated: it can walk, run, do back flips, climb stairs and traverse uneven terrain.  Unlike Toro and iCub, Atlas can act and react as a human would in similar physical circumstances.

Boston Dynamics’ “Atlas” [6]

According to the Boston Dynamics website, “The Atlas hardware takes advantage of 3D printing to save weight and space, resulting in a remarkable compact robot with high strength-to-weight ratio and a dramatically large workspace.  Stereo vision, range sensing and other sensors give Atlas the ability to manipulate objects in its environment and to travel on rough terrain.  Atlas keeps its balance when jostled or pushed and can get up if it tips over.”  Videos on their website show Atlas recovering from an unexpected fall. 

Testing Atlas’ ability to recover from an unexpected fall [8]

Sighting: The 1964 Cisco Grove Encounter

Donald Shrum spoke publicly for the first time in 2005 about his 1964 Cisco Grove encounter with alien beings in what has also become known as the “Cisco Grove Bow and Arrow” case.   Shrum had been with a bow hunting party near the Loch Leven Lakes in the Cisco Grove, California.  At night he became separated from his party and took refuge in a tree after seeing an unknown number of alien beings and a robot.

According to the article by Steve Reichmuth in the April 2007 issue of MUFON UFO Journal, “The robot looked metallic, and judging from the illustrations had bright orange eyes and what I would describe as “Gort-like” jaw facial features. (I use the term “Gort-like,” because Paul Cerny’s superb color illustrations remind me of the facial structure of the robot from the 1951 movie The Day the Earth Stood Still!). The beings were not taller than 5 feet and the robots slightly shorter.” 9

Donald Shrum said that while he was situated in the tree, the beings approached him but drew away each time when he lit some branches afire and threw the flaming branches at the beings.  An enlarged image the Paul Cerny’s drawing of the ~5 feet tall robot is shown below.

Cisco Grove “Gort-like” robot [10]


In 1964 it would have been laughable if Donald Shrum had reported a gang of aliens and a robot, that looked like “Gort,” who attempted to chase him up a fir tree at night.  No wonder that he kept his experience silent for 43 years.  However, today we know a little more about advanced AI robotics with the unlikely names of “Toro,” “iCub” and “Atlas.”  If you compare the illustration of “Terminator” above with the one of “Atlas” and give him a weapon, they might almost look identical.  “Atlas” would not pass the Turing test, but who knows what DARPA will be working on tomorrow?  It seems clearer, day by day, that DARPA’s intent is to develop an army of robotic AI warriors.  Sometimes science fiction very closely parallels reality.  If fact, I’d say, in this case, that science fiction has become science fact.


  1. Courtesy of A24 and Universal Pictures
  2. Courtesy of Paramount Domestic Television.
  3. Courtesy of DLR.
  4. Courtesy of IIT and Robocub Consortium.
  5. Courtesy of Orion Pictures.
  6. Courtesy of Boston Dynamics.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Courtesy of MUFON.  Reichmuth, Steve, “The Cisco Grove Bow and Arrow Alien Encounter,” MUFON UFO Journal, April 2007, No. 468, pages 3-6.
  10. Ibid.

© 2019 T. L. Keller

T. L. Keller can be contacted at