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Interviews

Robot or Not?

John Siracusa

+28 FANS
Jason Snell asks John Siracusa to rule on the meaning of various words and concepts. It’s not just about robots anymore.
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119: Life

15:18 | Nov 27th, 2017

How can we call something alive?...
160: Bacon

06:09 | Jul 1st

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

04:30 | Jun 11th

Prompted by a note from Listener Zach, we discuss the trend of “autonomous food delivery vehicles” on college campuses....
158: Pants

02:46 | Jun 3rd

The entire conversation is pants. (The Brits will get that.)...
155: TV and Movies

15:57 | Apr 15th

When is it a TV show and when is it a movie? It’s confusing....
153: Live Action

08:20 | Mar 18th

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

05:16 | Mar 4th

Legal news: Is Almond Milk milk?...
151: "Chick Flick"

09:31 | Feb 18th

What is a “Chick Flick”? Let’s start off by taking apart the term itself....
150: Marty the Supermarket Robot

06:35 | Feb 4th

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

09:01 | Jan 21st

Is this real or are we in a video game? How can we tell the true nature of the universe?...
148: Hacker

02:16 | Jan 7th

Do hackers do good, or bad, or both?...
147: Cult

08:16 | Dec 24th, 2018

“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.” Merry Christmas, everybody!...
145: Database

03:49 | Nov 26th, 2018

Where spreadsheets and databases collide....
144: Soup

06:15 | Nov 12th, 2018

“You haven’t done soup yet, have you?”...
143: Phones

06:55 | Oct 29th, 2018

Smartphones, dumb phones, feature phones, and computers in your pocket....
139: Planets, and also Pluto

05:34 | Sep 3rd, 2018

John is given the opportunity to endorse or reject the rulings of the International Astronomical Union....
137: Nerds and Geeks

06:16 | Aug 6th, 2018

The subtle and vexing difference between a nerd and a geek....
136: Programming

08:56 | Jul 23rd, 2018

What is computer programming? And what doesn’t qualify?...
134: Personal Computers

09:12 | Jun 25th, 2018

Is a Mac a PC? Is an iPad a computer? Does John favor a broad definition or a narrow one?...
132: Seasons

06:21 | May 28th, 2018

The conundrum of seasons versus eternally pleasant weather....
131: Savory Donuts

02:06 | May 14th, 2018

Bagels are not donuts, people....
130: Sweaters

02:23 | Apr 30th, 2018

Listener Ed, we’ve got bad news....
129: Pets

09:03 | Apr 16th, 2018

What makes an animal a pet?...
128: The Midwest

08:06 | Apr 2nd, 2018

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

06:53 | Mar 19th, 2018

From Sour Cream & Onion to BBQ, what are the “real” potato chip flavors?...
124: The Trolley Problem

13:33 | Feb 7th, 2018

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?...
121: Holidays and Holiday Movies

07:23 | Dec 25th, 2017

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

11:47 | Dec 11th, 2017

Okay, time to call it. Time of death— wait, wait, everybody hold on. How do we define death?...
118: Ice Cream

10:31 | Nov 13th, 2017

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

14:23 | Oct 31st, 2017

We discuss the names of meals and when they happen, and make an interesting(?) digression into human sleep cycles....
116: Salad

07:45 | Oct 16th, 2017

From leafy greens to sugary Jell-O concoctions, all sorts of things are called salads....
115: Barbecue

09:43 | Oct 2nd, 2017

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

06:43 | Sep 18th, 2017

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

16:54 | Sep 4th, 2017

I don’t know what it is, but I know it when I see it....
112: Donuts

10:26 | Aug 21st, 2017

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

11:23 | Aug 7th, 2017

What makes machine intelligence “real AI”? And what is the difference between strong and weak AI?...
110: Anime and Kaiju

08:32 | Jul 24th, 2017

The very definition of video entertainment from Japan....
109: Sport

14:39 | Jul 10th, 2017

What makes something a sport, and not an exercise or a game?...
108: Condiments and Favorite Foods

09:51 | Jun 26th, 2017

Exploring Jason’s favorite food, what a “favorite food” even is, and the hazy dividing line between condiments and other edibles....
107: Science Fiction

10:03 | Jun 12th, 2017

What’s science fiction? And more importantly, is Star Wars science fiction, fantasy, or something else?...
106: Computer Chips

11:44 | May 29th, 2017

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

18:28 | May 15th, 2017

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. S...Show More
104: Pizza Toppings

09:39 | May 2nd, 2017

What toppings are allowed on pizza? And what about using a knife and fork to eat pizza? There are many rules....
103: Pizza

11:38 | Apr 17th, 2017

John weighs in on what makes something a pizza, including the horror of the Turkey Dinner Pizza....
102: Sandwiches

08:35 | Apr 3rd, 2017

Exploring what makes a sandwich, while also discussing the history of food, sandwiches as satire, and the difference between llamas and camels....
101: Supervillains

10:18 | Mar 20th, 2017

John helps Jason figure out the precise moment when a villain becomes a supervillain....
100: The Robot

02:19 | Mar 6th, 2017

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

02:54 | Feb 27th, 2017

Are John and Jason robots? All will be revealed!...
98: Human Beings

02:04 | Feb 20th, 2017

Could it be? Are we all robots?...
97: Captchas

00:51 | Feb 13th, 2017

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

02:55 | Feb 6th, 2017

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

05:49 | Jan 30th, 2017

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

04:13 | Jan 23rd, 2017

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.

02:49 | Jan 16th, 2017

Game controller, robot, or total embarrassment?...
91: Naked Robotic Core

05:27 | Jan 2nd, 2017

An unadorned iPhone can be a Naked Robotic Core, but is it a robot?...
90: Mechagodzilla

01:03 | Dec 26th, 2016

Look who was under the tree! It’s a giant mechanical monster!...
89: Battlebots

01:34 | Dec 19th, 2016

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

01:03 | Dec 12th, 2016

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

03:04 | Dec 5th, 2016

It patrols the mall. Sometimes it knocks over small children....
86: The Hosts of "Westworld"

06:54 | Nov 28th, 2016

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” wa...Show More
85: The Bicentennial Man

04:59 | Nov 21st, 2016

A robot slowly turns himself human. When does he stop being a robot?...
84: Metal Mario

01:32 | Nov 14th, 2016

Sometimes Mario is metallic. Does that make him a robot?...
83: Kayaks

01:00 | Nov 7th, 2016

They are boats with paddles. What else are they?...
82: The Borg

06:22 | Oct 31st, 2016

Straight out of “Star Trek” come these technological villains. Also, we discuss larger issues including AIs and hive minds....
81: The Energizer Bunny

01:23 | Oct 24th, 2016

It just keeps going, and going, and going…....
80: Tachikoma and Fuchikoma

02:09 | Oct 17th, 2016

Little cute robots from “Ghost in the Shell.”...
79: SpaceX

06:50 | Oct 10th, 2016

Self-guided rockets and drone barges....
78: Hot Dogs

01:32 | Oct 3rd, 2016

They’re sure tasty, and it’s meat between bread, but are hot dogs sandwiches?...
77: Daft Punk

01:27 | Sep 26th, 2016

They sure look like robots. But who’s under the masks?...
76: Animals in "Blade Runner"

02:42 | Sep 19th, 2016

The owl and the snake from “Blade Runner” raise some interesting questions....
75: Bubo

03:49 | Sep 12th, 2016

A little metal owl from “Clash of the Titans.” Crafted by the gods, can he possibly be a robot?...
74: Gort

05:04 | Sep 5th, 2016

The robot from “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, plus a long digression into Star Trek androids....
73: Cartoons

02:11 | Aug 29th, 2016

Is all animation “cartoons”?...
71: RoboCop

02:18 | Aug 15th, 2016

That “Robo” prefix is sure interesting, and he’s probably a cop, but…...
69: Tron

01:37 | Aug 1st, 2016

He fights for the users inside a computer. Can software people be robots?...
68: Canadarm

01:49 | Jul 25th, 2016

A fancy “robot arm” from Canada. But when is a robot arm just an arm, and when is it a robot?...
67: Silicone Stingray

03:10 | Jul 18th, 2016

Part animal, part machine. But is it a robot?...
65: Serena Williams

08:36 | Jul 4th, 2016

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

02:44 | Jun 27th, 2016

Karel Capek’s play that made this podcast possible....
63: Animatronic Creatures

01:25 | Jun 20th, 2016

The Country Bears, Chuck E. Cheese, and the things from Five Nights at Freddy’s....
62b: Filesystems and Flowerpot Robots

03:50 | Jun 18th, 2016

Live from RelayCon WWDC 2016, it’s a special live edition of Robot or Not....
62: General Grievous

02:16 | Jun 13th, 2016

He’s a droid with a cough. So what’s the deal?...
61: Elevators

03:15 | Jun 6th, 2016

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

02:27 | May 30th, 2016

Go go Gadget! Also we get off on a tangent about Penny, inspired by The Flop House....
59: The Doctor from "Star Trek: Voyager"

02:53 | May 23rd, 2016

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. Can a hologram be a robot?...
58: Synths

03:34 | May 16th, 2016

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

06:26 | May 9th, 2016

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

01:35 | May 2nd, 2016

Our own robot (or not) is in the spotlight at last....
54: T-1000

04:06 | Apr 18th, 2016

It’s made of liquid metal....
53: Tamagotchi

01:25 | Apr 11th, 2016

Is it even a game? What if you had a video game that featured a robot?...
52: The Robots of "Destiny"

06:06 | Apr 4th, 2016

From Bungie’s bestselling video game, Ghosts, Exos, Rasputin, and other things that might be robots....
51: Lego Simulated Worm Toy

05:59 | Mar 28th, 2016

A software model of a flatworm, piloting a Lego Mindstorms toy....
50: The Matrix

03:29 | Mar 21st, 2016

Agents and Oracles and Architects from the “Matrix” trilogy....
49: Chatbots

03:12 | Mar 14th, 2016

They listen to us and talk back. But is that enough?...
48: Replicants

07:08 | Mar 7th, 2016

Roy Batty, Pris, and all the rest. They’ve seen the Tannhauser Gate, but are they robots?...
46: Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo

02:04 | Feb 22nd, 2016

The bots from “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”...
45: Nanobots

06:46 | Feb 15th, 2016

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

02:34 | Feb 8th, 2016

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

05:42 | Feb 1st, 2016

Two enemies wrapped in metal shells from “Doctor Who” face their ultimate foe—the judgment of John Siracusa....
42: Prince Robot IV

02:27 | Jan 25th, 2016

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

01:06 | Jan 18th, 2016

This one seems to have gotten in by mistake....
40: Swimming Pool Cleaners

03:28 | Jan 11th, 2016

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")

01:42 | Jan 4th, 2016

If the cars in Pixar’s “Cars” movies aren’t cars, what are they, and where did they come from?...
38: Podcasts

00:53 | Dec 28th, 2015

Just in time for the holidays, some existential questions. Also, could a robot be on a podcast?...
37: Clockwork Droids

03:28 | Dec 21st, 2015

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

04:55 | Dec 14th, 2015

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

02:50 | Dec 7th, 2015

A Volkswagen Beetle with a mind of his own!...
34: Aperture Science

04:23 | Nov 30th, 2015

GlaDOS, Wheatley, turrets, cubes, spheres and more....
33: Vicki from "Small Wonder"

02:30 | Nov 23rd, 2015

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,...Show More
32: Lobot

01:01 | Nov 16th, 2015

Cloud City’s majordomo from “The Empire Strikes Back” is in the spotlight....
31: robots.txt

01:58 | Nov 9th, 2015

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

06:11 | Nov 2nd, 2015

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

01:47 | Oct 26th, 2015

That little guy from “Short Circuit.”...
28: The TARDIS

04:43 | Oct 19th, 2015

The blue box from “Doctor Who” might be sentient, might be alive, but is it a robot?...
27: V'ger

09:34 | Oct 12th, 2015

V’ger and the Ilia probe, both from “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”. Also, John complains about fake skin on androids....
26: Cylons

09:59 | Oct 5th, 2015

The metal robots (and their fleshy successors) from the old and new “Battlestar Galactica.”...
25: Home Appliances

03:58 | Sep 28th, 2015

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

06:25 | Sep 21st, 2015

The bigfoot/sasquatch from “The Six Million Dollar Man.”...
23: Space Probes

03:13 | Sep 14th, 2015

From golf carts on Mars to New Horizons flying past Pluto, these are impressive machines, but are they robots?...
22: Hitchbot

01:54 | Sep 7th, 2015

He tried to hitch his way across the country, but was dismembered in Philadelphia. Image by archier on Flickr....
21: Droids

06:15 | Aug 31st, 2015

Are droids robots? Do they have rights? Is the Empire based on a robo-slave economy?...
20: Pinocchio

04:51 | Aug 24th, 2015

Are we seriously talking about magic here?...
19: Marvin the Paranoid Android

02:24 | Aug 17th, 2015

Your plastic pal who’s fun to be with!...
16: Siri

00:57 | Jul 27th, 2015

So-called intelligent agents....
15: The Major

02:24 | Jul 20th, 2015

From “Ghost in the Shell,” a human brain in a mechanical body. And what about uploaded brains and bodies?...
14: Jaegers

04:14 | Jul 13th, 2015

Big robots with people inside, as seen in “Shogun Warriors” and “Pacific Rim.”...
12: USS Enterprise

03:26 | Jul 2nd, 2015

The main computer of the USS Enterprise....
11: KITT

06:26 | Jun 29th, 2015

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

02:56 | Jun 25th, 2015

Honda’s ASIMO, Sony’s AIBO, and other cute things that can do The Robot dance. Also, our Radio Shack memories....
8: Roomba

03:53 | Jun 19th, 2015

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

00:53 | Jun 15th, 2015

They’re funny, but are they robots?...
6: Self-Driving Cars

05:26 | Jun 10th, 2015

Pondering sentient Google cars, Johnny Cab, and autopilots....
5: Emotions

00:48 | Jun 4th, 2015

The greatest prog rock album ever made....
4: K-9

02:12 | Jun 2nd, 2015

John and Jason try to understand robot dogs. Plus, a trip through old “Doctor Who” episodes....
3: Darth Vader

02:40 | May 29th, 2015

Cyborgs and robots and humans—how do we tell these things apart?...
2: Service Kiosks

04:17 | May 25th, 2015

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

05:11 | May 22nd, 2015

We explain why we’re here, and then discuss the protagonist of Styx’s 1983 album “Kilroy Was Here.”...
0: Origin

06:47 | Apr 7th, 2015

A flashback to past podcasts, as a way of explaining why this podcast exists....