Who’s not a robot? It depends on who you’re talking to. Meet Aji-3, she definitely is a robot! I was excited when I’m Not a Robot premiered, and to see a Korean drama with a robot in it, and now she has become my girl-crush. I am a fan of science fiction, and you don’t find much of that in dramas. Knowing that our story is largely about someone who is NOT a robot, let’s see how Aji-3 fares in a Kdrama!
The Sci-Fi Trappings
Aji-3 is legit, she has all the gadgetry that no self-respecting robot would be without. That’s quite a lab they have there, littered with computers and prototype parts that probably belonged to Aji-1. We see the lab techs sending commands via computer to her and discover that Professor Hong designed her to identify emotions and interact with humans. (Now that sounds like the way a Kdrama would treat a robot.)
Aji-3 is equipped with GPS and the internet. When presented with a situation, she looks up relevant information and acts on it, one way she is self-programming. Here she sees Min-kyu’s extended finger, associates it with the movie ET, and makes an appropriate response.
The Robot Design Team
Professor Hong is the primary designer. He modeled his robot on his ex-girlfriend Ji Ah but hasn’t figured out why she broke up with him, or that his assistant Pi likes him now. Why is such a clueless guy interested in a robot with emotions? He programs Aji-3 to decode facial expressions and deduce emotions but doesn’t pay much attention to them himself.
Ji Ah needs to pay off debts, so when the robot needs a new part she agrees to impersonate it for the money. She is connected to Aji-3 via a radio in her ear and a contact lens with a camera in it. Although she isn’t consciously trying to teach the robot, Aji-3 learns from her anyway, particularly when she tells Aji-3 that sometimes you have to lie to people for their own good. The actor who played the younger lab tech said of her, “She is pretty in real life, but she’s prettier when pretending to be a robot!” (Ha. My opinion exactly!)
Min-kyu has an allergy to humans. He can’t touch people at all but is otherwise healthy. (The fangirls in Dramas With a Side of Kimchi Podcast 4 made a big deal about a black sleeveless shirt showing off his arms). Because he lives alone in a big empty house he feels a more-than-usual connection to robots and even has a birthday party for his automatic vacuum. He decides to help train Professor Hong’s robot, and although he is really with Ji Ah most of the time, Aji-3 has all of their interactions in her memory banks.
Pi, Professor Hong’s assistant, has a doctorate and did a lot of the work developing the robot as well as tried to help the professor understand people. The two lab techs (dubbed Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum in the podcast) teach jokes to Aji-3 and do a lot of tinkering, including making a mini-bot out of an old computer monitor. Here we see them using a drone to send a message to Min-kyu.
So…How does Aji-3 fare in the Kdrama?
You are coming to the SPOILERS. You have been warned.
We realize of course, that the center of interest in this drama is the relationship between the main couple, not the office shenanigans or the science fiction. The writer cares most and we care most, about the antics of Ji Ah and Min-kyu, and they are very cute. In fact, they make the show. The other things aren’t developed nearly as much, although I would like to have learned more about Madam X. Dr. Hong’s goal for the robot is to read emotions and interact with humans, which she does very well when she goes off on her own near the end of the drama. He seems to care about Aji-3 when he thinks he has to sell her, but ultimately he takes her apart. He’s had two other versions, of course, and keeping recordings of Ji Ah and Min-kyu is really an invasion of privacy. By the internal valuation of the Kdrama, the treatment of the robot is a success.
However, what really happens to Aji-3 by the end of the drama? She drops out of the story and does not appear in the last two episodes at all. In the epilogue, they introduce a completely new robot that they don’t even show us. We had gotten little hints here and there that she had been developing awareness. Ji Ah had said that she felt bad about lying to Min-kyu, but it was for his own good because he could get sick and die. When the design team told Aji-3 that she was being sold, she identified their expressions as sad and figured out that they were lying to her for her own good. She decided she didn’t want to be a war machine (my heart skipped a beat at that possibility) and escaped from her new owners. We didn’t see how that went on, and I really expected something important to happen with the robot in the wrap-up but it never did.
Sure, we have seen that she thinks and that she is an individual. We are used to intelligent robots in science fiction. Some of them, like Data and R2D2, have status. The people around them care about them and would never take them apart, even though R2D2 doesn’t look at all like a human. It doesn’t seem that Aji-3 was granted any status. To me, it’s a terrible thing that no one recognized her as an individual and preserved her as a person when she showed that level of internal awareness. If she wasn’t intended to be self-aware she shouldn’t have been written that way, and if the new robot was essentially her, they should have shown us. So I am not happy with this treatment of the robot in the Kdrama. However, the mini-bot was a success!
There seems to be a wave of robot dramas coming up. I’m waiting to see what the newcomers are like and how the new dramas treat them. Will there be any that I like as much as Aji-3? Here’s hoping for some good science fiction, and let’s keep watching!
Telzeytalks of Dramas With a Side of Kimchi