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Seven androids – and their lessons for enterprise IT

Google's choice of Android as a brand name for its mobile platform is interesting and suggestive. Here, ZDNet picks out seven of fiction's most arresting androids and the lessons their fables have for business technology
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1 of 8 Rupert Goodwins/ZDNet

Google's choice of Android as a brand name for its mobile platform is interesting and suggestive. Throughout fiction, androids — created beings that look more or less like humans — have been used as vehicles for strong, cautionary stories, highlighting some of the aspects of being human that can cause trouble if things go out of balance. In particular, powerful entities promising not to do evil can be particularly dangerous if they can't — or don't — stick to their word.

The following pages feature seven of fiction's most arresting androids — and the lessons their fables have for modern enterprise IT.

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2 of 8 Rupert Goodwins/ZDNet

The Golem
One of the very first androids in legend, the Golem was a clay man brought to life by Rabbi Loew of Prague, to defend the Jews against attacks. Powerful and utterly obedient, it always did exactly what it was told — and in so doing, wreaked havoc. In some versions of the story, it becomes unco-operative and turns on its maker.

IT moral
Your security systems have the potential to do you great damage — even if they're working perfectly — if you command them badly. What can protect you from harm can also prevent you from doing what you need to do — so remember, usability and functionality are as important as the ability to spot and block attacks. Also, make sure you know where the off switch is.

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3 of 8 Rupert Goodwins/ZDNet

Frankenstein's monster
Widely held to mark the birth of modern science-fiction, Dr Frankenstein's monster (shown here in the 1931 film) was pieced together from multiple bits of dead bodies and animated by electricity. Although well-meaning, its hideous appearance led to rejection and and gave it a crushing need for revenge.

IT moral
If your infrastructure is built out of heaps of old systems bolted together, don't be surprised if your users recoil in horror from the resultant ugly. That's going to feed back into the corporate willingness to spend on maintenance and doing things properly, and you'll only be able to patch things up for so long before the monster starts rebelling. Also, be careful before switching to alternative energy sources.

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4 of 8 Rupert Goodwins/ZDNet

Robot Maria
In Metropolis, Fritz Lang's modernist masterpiece, heroine Maria tries to unify the subterranean workers and skyscraper-living leaders of a future city. A malcontent creates a robot, disguises it as Maria and uses it to foment discord and riots. In the end, amid scenes of chaos, it is destroyed by the workers and the human Maria restores balance and order.

IT moral
Don't allow your IT to dictate how your company runs, least of all in the names of efficiency and regulation. An enterprise where the people are restricted in what they can do by the systems that should be supporting them will be unable to grow as it needs, and the employees will be frustrated and unhappy. Also, if you are going to live in an ivory tower, make sure you know where the fire escape is.

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5 of 8 Rupert Goodwins/ZDNet

The Gunslinger from Westworld
In the 1973 Michael Crichton film, visitors to an amusement park are surrounded by role-playing androids, who simulate all manner of exciting and violent periods in history. A central control malfunction leaves the robots roaming free and unrestrained, and the massacre begins.

IT moral
The more powerful your systems become, the more important disaster recovery becomes. It's one thing for stuff to go wrong: it will. It's quite another when the only valid response is to flee in terror from the resulting mayhem. Practise your business recovery strategy. Oh, and don't hire Yul Brynner as a troubleshooter.

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6 of 8 Rupert Goodwins/ZDNet

Ash in Alien
Disguised as a human crew member, Ash's mission on board the Nostromo in Ridley Scott's 1979 film is not quite as it seems. Instead of working for the ship and its crew, Ash is secretly following orders from 'the company', which wants to retrieve the alien for study at any price. Cue unpleasantness for all concerned, with most of the crew dead, Nostromo destroyed and Ash losing his head in an incident involving a fire extinguisher.

IT moral
Your suppliers may say they're here to help you, but how aligned are their missions with yours? Beware building your corporate IT around something that lies outside your control and cannot easily be replaced, if your vendors have a history of pushing solutions that work rather better for their bottom line than yours. Also, don't go chasing the office cat through the corridors late at night.

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7 of 8 Rupert Goodwins/ZDNet

Philip K Dick's replicants
In the 1982 film Blade Runner, the replicants are driven to desperate actions through being designed with all the promise and awareness of fully functioning humans, but with a very short lifespan. They return to Earth to seek out their creator and forcefully demand more life; when this can't be done, it's curtains for everyone.

IT moral
What would you do if your carefully installed and mission-critical system suddenly starts displaying accelerated decrepitude — and the support and upgrades you need aren't available? The army has a good saying: no man is indispensable. The same should be true of your systems; no component, big or small, should be able to hold you to ransom by breaking, and if a supplier exits your market, you should be able to plug in another. Also, has anyone ever given Steve Jobs a Voight-Kampff test?

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8 of 8 Rupert Goodwins/ZDNet

The Stepford Wives
In the two movies based on Ira Levin's 1975 novel, the Stepford wives are beautiful, compliant, passive and utterly devoted to their men — and they're androids. Any woman discovering their secret will be destroyed, and a perfect model created in their place.

IT moral
It's normal to admire this or that technology, but essential to retain objectivity when deciding on key components of IT strategy. Fashion, fanhood and philosophies have their place, but if an idea that seems to conflict with your idea of beauty really has something to offer, don't kill it or twist it to fit your preconceptions. Also, never let a muppet rebuild your system.

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