Robot or Not?

Robot or Not?

www.theincomparable.com/robot
Jason Snell asks John Siracusa to rule on the meaning of various words and concepts. It’s not just about robots anymore.


171: Dish
Dec 2 • 2 min
From dish to plate to bowl….
170: City
Nov 18 • 7 min
Does it all come down to the U.S. Postal Service?…
169: Burgers
Nov 4 • 5 min
And do sliders have to slide?…
168: Augmented Reality
Oct 21 • 9 min
An Accidental AR podcast….
167: Pet Names
Oct 7 • 7 min
Can we differentiate between how people name pets and how they name children? Listeners Rover and Whiskers, drop us a line….
166: Smart Devices
Sep 23 • 4 min
Where do we draw the line between a regular device and a “smart” device?…
165: Leftovers
Sep 9 • 5 min
When does a meal turn into leftovers?…
164: Cover Version
Aug 26 • 4 min
Listener Luke sent in this week’s theme song. Is it a cover version of our canonical theme song? When is a new version of a song not a cover?…
163: Family
Aug 14 • 7 min
What constitutes family? Blood relatives only? Are friends family? Are co-workers family? Can you escape your family?…
162: Doors
Jul 29 • 3 min
What about when they’re ajar?…
161: Storefronts
Jul 15 • 6 min
Select all the STOREFRONTS to prove that you’re a human….
160: Bacon
Jul 1 • 6 min
By popular demand, John has done his research—or maybe not?—and is here to break down what is bacon and what is an impostor….
159: Campus Delivery Robots
Jun 11 • 4 min
Prompted by a note from Listener Zach, we discuss the trend of “autonomous food delivery vehicles” on college campuses….
158: Pants
Jun 3 • 2 min
The entire conversation is pants. (The Brits will get that.)…
157: Board Games
May 20 • 9 min
How much board is required?…
156: Combination Restaurants
May 6 • 7 min
We’ll see you at the Carl’s Jr./Green Burrito/KFC/Taco Bell….
155: TV and Movies
Apr 15 • 15 min
When is it a TV show and when is it a movie? It’s confusing….
154: American Food
Apr 1 • 6 min
It all goes back to Mesopotamia….
153: Live Action
Mar 18 • 8 min
If the new “Lion King” film features CGI animals talking with other CGI animals, is it a “live-action” movie or just a different kind of animation? What about a movie like “Avengers: Infinity War”?…
152: Milk
Mar 4 • 5 min
Legal news: Is Almond Milk milk?…
151: “Chick Flick”
Feb 18 • 9 min
What is a “Chick Flick”? Let’s start off by taking apart the term itself….
150: Marty the Supermarket Robot
Feb 4 • 6 min
In a rare topical episode, John and Jason discuss Marty, the tall, googly-eyed robot that may soon be roaming the aisles of a supermarket near you. Does Marty meet the Roomba test? Are the googly eyes fooling anyone?…
149: Simulated Universe
Jan 21 • 9 min
Is this real or are we in a video game? How can we tell the true nature of the universe?…
148: Hacker
Jan 7 • 2 min
Do hackers do good, or bad, or both?…
147: Cult
Dec 24, 2018 • 8 min
“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.” Merry Christmas, everybody!…
146: GIF
Dec 10, 2018 • 5 min
Choosy mothers pronounce it differently….
145: Database
Nov 26, 2018 • 3 min
Where spreadsheets and databases collide….
144: Soup
Nov 12, 2018 • 6 min
“You haven’t done soup yet, have you?”…
143: Phones
Oct 29, 2018 • 6 min
Smartphones, dumb phones, feature phones, and computers in your pocket….
142: Toasters
Oct 15, 2018 • 9 min
Slot toasters, toaster ovens, and the definitions thereof….
141: Podcasting
Oct 1, 2018 • 2 min
What makes something a podcast? OMG, are we one?!…
140: Bread
Sep 17, 2018 • 3 min
Bread is bread, but what about hot dog buns, bagels, tortillas, and pitas?…
139: Planets, and also Pluto
Sep 3, 2018 • 5 min
John is given the opportunity to endorse or reject the rulings of the International Astronomical Union….
138: Job Security
Aug 20, 2018 • 8 min
John’s worked (and left) a lot of jobs. What’s his personal philosophy about job security versus going it alone as an independent?…
137: Nerds and Geeks
Aug 6, 2018 • 6 min
The subtle and vexing difference between a nerd and a geek….
136: Programming
Jul 23, 2018 • 8 min
What is computer programming? And what doesn’t qualify?…
135: Reality TV
Jul 9, 2018 • 8 min
When is a game show a game show, and when is it reality television? Also, we reveal our favorite reality TV show….
134: Personal Computers
Jun 25, 2018 • 9 min
Is a Mac a PC? Is an iPad a computer? Does John favor a broad definition or a narrow one?…
133: Gnocchi
Jun 11, 2018 • 5 min
What makes pasta pasta?…
132: Seasons
May 28, 2018 • 6 min
The conundrum of seasons versus eternally pleasant weather….
131: Savory Donuts
May 14, 2018 • 2 min
Bagels are not donuts, people….
130: Sweaters
Apr 30, 2018 • 2 min
Listener Ed, we’ve got bad news….
129: Pets
Apr 16, 2018 • 9 min
What makes an animal a pet?…
128: The Midwest
Apr 2, 2018 • 8 min
Did both of Jason’s parents both come from the Midwest, or only one? What are the true boundaries of America’s heartland?…
127: Potato Chips
Mar 19, 2018 • 6 min
From Sour Cream & Onion to BBQ, what are the “real” potato chip flavors?…
126: Vacation
Mar 5, 2018 • 10 min
If you don’t go anywhere, is it a vacation? What if you go somewhere, but you don’t relax?…
125: Cheesecake
Feb 19, 2018 • 13 min
Is cheesecake cheese, cake, pie, tart, or none of the above? Does the angle of the pan matter? Does crust content matter? Do any of us matter, really?…
124: The Trolley Problem
Feb 7, 2018 • 13 min
As recently highlighted on “The Good Place”, it’s a classic ethical conundum that John wants absolutely no part of. And what if the trolley drives itself?…
123: Janet from “The Good Place”
Jan 22, 2018 • 5 min
Never believe what a robot tells you….
122: Night (bark) Joggers (bark)
Jan 8, 2018 • 1 min
A dog interlude….
121: Holidays and Holiday Movies
Dec 25, 2017 • 7 min
What makes a movie a holiday movie? How do they celebrate winter holidays in warm climates? Merry Christmas to all, especially in Australia!…
120: Death
Dec 11, 2017 • 11 min
Okay, time to call it. Time of death— wait, wait, everybody hold on. How do we define death?…
119: Life
Nov 27, 2017 • 15 min
How can we call something alive?…
118: Ice Cream
Nov 13, 2017 • 10 min
It would seem like ice cream versus frozen yogurt would be the main debate. But the pronunciation of a third competitor completely derails us….
117: Brunch
Oct 31, 2017 • 14 min
We discuss the names of meals and when they happen, and make an interesting(?) digression into human sleep cycles….
116: Salad
Oct 16, 2017 • 7 min
From leafy greens to sugary Jell-O concoctions, all sorts of things are called salads….
115: Barbecue
Oct 2, 2017 • 9 min
Continuing our confused series of episodes about food-related topics, it’s time for John and Jason to talk about Jason’s favorite food style and what happens when you put food on a grill….
114: Smoothie
Sep 18, 2017 • 6 min
If everything can be a smoothie, then nothing is. So we try to define what makes a smoothie and acts as a bulwark against the milkshake….
113: Art
Sep 4, 2017 • 16 min
I don’t know what it is, but I know it when I see it….
112: Donuts
Aug 21, 2017 • 10 min
We don’t know quite what an old-fashioned donut is, but we know what we like… and what we don’t….
111: Artificial Intelligence
Aug 7, 2017 • 11 min
What makes machine intelligence “real AI”? And what is the difference between strong and weak AI?…
110: Anime and Kaiju
Jul 24, 2017 • 8 min
The very definition of video entertainment from Japan….
109: Sport
Jul 10, 2017 • 14 min
What makes something a sport, and not an exercise or a game?…
108: Condiments and Favorite Foods
Jun 26, 2017 • 9 min
Exploring Jason’s favorite food, what a “favorite food” even is, and the hazy dividing line between condiments and other edibles….
107: Science Fiction
Jun 12, 2017 • 10 min
What’s science fiction? And more importantly, is Star Wars science fiction, fantasy, or something else?…
106: Computer Chips
May 29, 2017 • 11 min
Is everything a computer chip? Is nothing a computer chip? Jason thinks this is gonna be good. John thinks it’s obvious….
105: Canonical Bagel Flavors
May 15, 2017 • 18 min
What is the canon of bagels? Why are some ingredients allowed in an Everything Bagel but not any other bagel style? What makes raisins an acceptable ingredient, yet bars blueberries? Mr. Siracusa, native of the great state of New York, educates Mr. Snell,…
104: Pizza Toppings
May 2, 2017 • 9 min
What toppings are allowed on pizza? And what about using a knife and fork to eat pizza? There are many rules….
103: Pizza
Apr 17, 2017 • 11 min
John weighs in on what makes something a pizza, including the horror of the Turkey Dinner Pizza….
102: Sandwiches
Apr 3, 2017 • 8 min
Exploring what makes a sandwich, while also discussing the history of food, sandwiches as satire, and the difference between llamas and camels….
101: Supervillains
Mar 20, 2017 • 10 min
John helps Jason figure out the precise moment when a villain becomes a supervillain….
100: The Robot
Mar 6, 2017 • 2 min
Your hosts return to where it all began and then prepare to set out for new horizons. (Robot or Not will return in two weeks with a new series of episodes.)…
99: Your Hosts
Feb 27, 2017 • 2 min
Are John and Jason robots? All will be revealed!…
98: Human Beings
Feb 20, 2017 • 2 min
Could it be? Are we all robots?…
97: Captchas
Feb 13, 2017 • 0 min
What does a robot do when it gets to a web page with a checkbox that says “I’m not a robot”?…
96: The Gate at Jabba’s Palace
Feb 6, 2017 • 2 min
The gate at Jabba’s palace in “Return of the Jedi” talks to droids, or has something inside it that talks to droids. So is it a robot?…
95: Autonomous Sailboats
Jan 30, 2017 • 5 min
They roam the ocean, scanning for important data and relaying their information home. There are no humans on board. Are these lonely sea voyagers robots?…
94: Shardik
Jan 23, 2017 • 4 min
The robotic guardian of the Beams. He looks like a bear but has a satellite dish on his head. He’s a thousand years old….
93: Nintendo R.O.B.
Jan 16, 2017 • 2 min
Game controller, robot, or total embarrassment?…
92: Pronunciation
Jan 9, 2017 • 3 min
ˈrōˌbät or rōbət?…
91: Naked Robotic Core
Jan 2, 2017 • 5 min
An unadorned iPhone can be a Naked Robotic Core, but is it a robot?…
90: Mechagodzilla
Dec 26, 2016 • 1 min
Look who was under the tree! It’s a giant mechanical monster!…
89: Battlebots
Dec 19, 2016 • 1 min
Among the fiercest creatures in the machine kingdom are the Battlebots. They’re designed for fighting! But are they really robots, or is that just a clever marketing name?…
88: School Babies and CPR Dummies
Dec 12, 2016 • 1 min
High school students carry them around and learn what it’s like to be a parent. Or you learn how to revive them by pressing their chest and breathing into their mouths. But are these learning tools also educational robots?…
87: K5 Mall Robot
Dec 5, 2016 • 3 min
It patrols the mall. Sometimes it knocks over small children….
86: The Hosts of “Westworld”
Nov 28, 2016 • 6 min
The HBO series “Westworld” makes us contemplate whether its central characters, the Hosts, are robots or not. (We recorded this episode after the first seven episodes of season one had aired; forgive us if it was revealed later that “To Serve Man” was…
85: The Bicentennial Man
Nov 21, 2016 • 4 min
A robot slowly turns himself human. When does he stop being a robot?…
84: Metal Mario
Nov 14, 2016 • 1 min
Sometimes Mario is metallic. Does that make him a robot?…
83: Kayaks
Nov 7, 2016 • 1 min
They are boats with paddles. What else are they?…
82: The Borg
Oct 31, 2016 • 6 min
Straight out of “Star Trek” come these technological villains. Also, we discuss larger issues including AIs and hive minds….
81: The Energizer Bunny
Oct 24, 2016 • 1 min
It just keeps going, and going, and going…….
80: Tachikoma and Fuchikoma
Oct 17, 2016 • 2 min
Little cute robots from “Ghost in the Shell.”…
79: SpaceX
Oct 10, 2016 • 6 min
Self-guided rockets and drone barges….
78: Hot Dogs
Oct 3, 2016 • 1 min
They’re sure tasty, and it’s meat between bread, but are hot dogs sandwiches?…
77: Daft Punk
Sep 26, 2016 • 1 min
They sure look like robots. But who’s under the masks?…
76: Animals in “Blade Runner”
Sep 19, 2016 • 2 min
The owl and the snake from “Blade Runner” raise some interesting questions….
75: Bubo
Sep 12, 2016 • 3 min
A little metal owl from “Clash of the Titans.” Crafted by the gods, can he possibly be a robot?…
74: Gort
Sep 5, 2016 • 5 min
The robot from “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, plus a long digression into Star Trek androids….
73: Cartoons
Aug 29, 2016 • 2 min
Is all animation “cartoons”?…
72: Robots from “Castle in the Sky” and “The Iron Giant”
Aug 22, 2016 • 2 min
Two beloved metal creatures from animation….
71: RoboCop
Aug 15, 2016 • 2 min
That “Robo” prefix is sure interesting, and he’s probably a cop, but……
70: The Robots of “Futurama”
Aug 8, 2016 • 5 min
Bender, Calculon, and Hedonismbot….
69: Tron
Aug 1, 2016 • 1 min
He fights for the users inside a computer. Can software people be robots?…
68: Canadarm
Jul 25, 2016 • 1 min
A fancy “robot arm” from Canada. But when is a robot arm just an arm, and when is it a robot?…
67: Silicone Stingray
Jul 18, 2016 • 3 min
Part animal, part machine. But is it a robot?…
66: Traffic lights in South Africa
Jul 11, 2016 • 1 min
Please obey robot….
65: Serena Williams
Jul 4, 2016 • 8 min
It’s Wimbledon time, and so our discussion turns to tennis, and Serena Williams—who is not a robot, despite her perhaps wishing she was….
64: Rossum’s Universal Robots
Jun 27, 2016 • 2 min
Karel Capek’s play that made this podcast possible….
63: Animatronic Creatures
Jun 20, 2016 • 1 min
The Country Bears, Chuck E. Cheese, and the things from Five Nights at Freddy’s….
62b: Filesystems and Flowerpot Robots
Jun 18, 2016 • 3 min
Live from RelayCon WWDC 2016, it’s a special live edition of Robot or Not….
62: General Grievous
Jun 13, 2016 • 2 min
He’s a droid with a cough. So what’s the deal?…
61: Elevators
Jun 6, 2016 • 3 min
They go up, they go down. They might even go sideways from time to time. And they can be smart. But are they robots?…
60: Inspector Gadget
May 30, 2016 • 2 min
Go go Gadget! Also we get off on a tangent about Penny, inspired by The Flop House….
59: The Doctor from “Star Trek: Voyager”
May 23, 2016 • 2 min
Please state the nature of the medical emergency. Can a hologram be a robot?…
58: Synths
May 16, 2016 • 3 min
From the AMC TV series “Humans,” the lifelike Synths look like humans but don’t act like it. And they bleed a funny color….
57: Baymax
May 9, 2016 • 6 min
He’s an inflatable, medical robot from “Big Hero 6”—but can you back up your personality and still be a robot?…
56: The Incomparable’s Logo
May 2, 2016 • 1 min
Our own robot (or not) is in the spotlight at last….
55: The Tin Woodman
Apr 25, 2016 • 3 min
If he only had a heart….
54: T-1000
Apr 18, 2016 • 4 min
It’s made of liquid metal….
53: Tamagotchi
Apr 11, 2016 • 1 min
Is it even a game? What if you had a video game that featured a robot?…
52: The Robots of “Destiny”
Apr 4, 2016 • 6 min
From Bungie’s bestselling video game, Ghosts, Exos, Rasputin, and other things that might be robots….
51: Lego Simulated Worm Toy
Mar 28, 2016 • 5 min
A software model of a flatworm, piloting a Lego Mindstorms toy….
50: The Matrix
Mar 21, 2016 • 3 min
Agents and Oracles and Architects from the “Matrix” trilogy….
49: Chatbots
Mar 14, 2016 • 3 min
They listen to us and talk back. But is that enough?…
48: Replicants
Mar 7, 2016 • 7 min
Roy Batty, Pris, and all the rest. They’ve seen the Tannhauser Gate, but are they robots?…
47: Thomas and Friends
Feb 29, 2016 • 3 min
Living rail cars in Sodor….
46: Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo
Feb 22, 2016 • 2 min
The bots from “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”…
45: Nanobots
Feb 15, 2016 • 6 min
Enter the realm of the very, very tiny as John and Jason ponder if size matters when it comes to whether something is a robot or not….
44: The Internet of Things
Feb 8, 2016 • 2 min
Security expert Bruce Schneier said the Internet of Things was a robot, but what does John think? You can probably guess….
43: Daleks and Cybermen
Feb 1, 2016 • 5 min
Two enemies wrapped in metal shells from “Doctor Who” face their ultimate foe—the judgment of John Siracusa….
42: Prince Robot IV
Jan 25, 2016 • 2 min
It’s right there in the name of this character from the acclaimed comic book “Saga,” but as we’ve learned, names can be misleading….
41: Burritos
Jan 18, 2016 • 1 min
This one seems to have gotten in by mistake….
40: Swimming Pool Cleaners
Jan 11, 2016 • 3 min
Things that clean your swimming pool: are they Roombas or just dumb hoses? Also, if a toaster can’t be a robot, can a robot be a toaster?…
39: Cars (from “Cars”)
Jan 4, 2016 • 1 min
If the cars in Pixar’s “Cars” movies aren’t cars, what are they, and where did they come from?…
38: Podcasts
Dec 28, 2015 • 0 min
Just in time for the holidays, some existential questions. Also, could a robot be on a podcast?…
37: Clockwork Droids
Dec 21, 2015 • 3 min
Doctor Who’s clockwork repair droids (from the episodes “Girl in the Fireplace” and “Deep Breath”) come under scrutiny. Sure, they start out as robots, but do they become something else..?…
36: Iron Man, Ultron, and Vision
Dec 14, 2015 • 4 min
From the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and specifically “Iron Man 3” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” deep robot-or-not questions about Iron Man’s suits, Ultron, and the Vision….
35: Herbie The Love Bug
Dec 7, 2015 • 2 min
A Volkswagen Beetle with a mind of his own!…
34: Aperture Science
Nov 30, 2015 • 4 min
GlaDOS, Wheatley, turrets, cubes, spheres and more….
33: Vicki from “Small Wonder”
Nov 23, 2015 • 2 min
She’s a small wonder, pretty and bright with soft curls. She’s a small wonder, a girl unlike other girls. She’s a miracle, and I grant you She’ll enchant you at her sight. She’s a small wonder, and she’ll make your heart take flight. She’s fantastic, made…
32: Lobot
Nov 16, 2015 • 1 min
Cloud City’s majordomo from “The Empire Strikes Back” is in the spotlight….
31: robots.txt
Nov 9, 2015 • 1 min
It’s right there in the name, but what about the things that connect to it? And what about when Merlin talks about putting things “in the robot”? We need answers, John!…
30: Twiki and Dr. Theopolis
Nov 2, 2015 • 6 min
We take you back to the days of “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” to debate the show’s two artificial sidekicks….
29: Johnny 5
Oct 26, 2015 • 1 min
That little guy from “Short Circuit.”…
28: The TARDIS
Oct 19, 2015 • 4 min
The blue box from “Doctor Who” might be sentient, might be alive, but is it a robot?…
27: V’ger
Oct 12, 2015 • 9 min
V’ger and the Ilia probe, both from “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”. Also, John complains about fake skin on androids….
26: Cylons
Oct 5, 2015 • 9 min
The metal robots (and their fleshy successors) from the old and new “Battlestar Galactica.”…
25: Home Appliances
Sep 28, 2015 • 3 min
What would a toaster have to do in order to be a robot? This episode introduces Siracusa’s Law, which somehow involves kitchen countertops….
24: Sasquatch
Sep 21, 2015 • 6 min
The bigfoot/sasquatch from “The Six Million Dollar Man.”…
23: Space Probes
Sep 14, 2015 • 3 min
From golf carts on Mars to New Horizons flying past Pluto, these are impressive machines, but are they robots?…
22: Hitchbot
Sep 7, 2015 • 1 min
He tried to hitch his way across the country, but was dismembered in Philadelphia. Image by archier on Flickr….
21: Droids
Aug 31, 2015 • 6 min
Are droids robots? Do they have rights? Is the Empire based on a robo-slave economy?…
20: Pinocchio
Aug 24, 2015 • 4 min
Are we seriously talking about magic here?…
19: Marvin the Paranoid Android
Aug 17, 2015 • 2 min
Your plastic pal who’s fun to be with!…
18: Commander Data
Aug 10, 2015 • 6 min
Is an android a robot?…
17: The Terminator
Aug 3, 2015 • 3 min
I know now why you humans cry….
16: Siri
Jul 27, 2015 • 0 min
So-called intelligent agents….
15: The Major
Jul 20, 2015 • 2 min
From “Ghost in the Shell,” a human brain in a mechanical body. And what about uploaded brains and bodies?…
14: Jaegers
Jul 13, 2015 • 4 min
Big robots with people inside, as seen in “Shogun Warriors” and “Pacific Rim.”…
13: Transformers
Jul 7, 2015 • 3 min
Like the song says….
12: USS Enterprise
Jul 2, 2015 • 3 min
The main computer of the USS Enterprise….
11: KITT
Jun 29, 2015 • 6 min
The “Knight Rider” car is cool, but is it a robot? What about KITT’s evil twin, KARR? Also, the dark pre-history of Pixar’s “Cars.”…
10: ASIMO
Jun 25, 2015 • 2 min
Honda’s ASIMO, Sony’s AIBO, and other cute things that can do The Robot dance. Also, our Radio Shack memories….
9: Assembly-Line Robots
Jun 22, 2015 • 3 min
Look for the union label….
8: Roomba
Jun 19, 2015 • 3 min
Does a self-guided vacuum cleaner cross John’s minimum bar for a robot? And what does that have to do with ants and dogs?…
7: Telepresence Robots
Jun 15, 2015 • 0 min
They’re funny, but are they robots?…
6: Self-Driving Cars
Jun 10, 2015 • 5 min
Pondering sentient Google cars, Johnny Cab, and autopilots….
5: Emotions
Jun 4, 2015 • 0 min
The greatest prog rock album ever made….
4: K-9
Jun 2, 2015 • 2 min
John and Jason try to understand robot dogs. Plus, a trip through old “Doctor Who” episodes….
3: Darth Vader
May 29, 2015 • 2 min
Cyborgs and robots and humans—how do we tell these things apart?…
2: Service Kiosks
May 25, 2015 • 4 min
John’s position on supermarket self-checkout machines, Jason’s need for beer when he visits his in-laws, and whether attaching arms to things makes them robots….
1: Mr. Roboto
May 22, 2015 • 5 min
We explain why we’re here, and then discuss the protagonist of Styx’s 1983 album “Kilroy Was Here.”…
0: Origin
Apr 7, 2015 • 6 min
A flashback to past podcasts, as a way of explaining why this podcast exists….