Robot protagonists have a long history in science fiction and were popularized by the novel I, Robot by Isaac Asimov in the 1940s with the robots Cutie, Robbie, Speedy etc. In television and cinema, the Robocop series and the character Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation proved to be the pinnacle of fame when it came to robotic heroes. Although science fiction never really found its niche readership in India, the idea of a robotic protagonist was widely seen in certain Bollywood movies. However, that too, never actualized its potential. To write an apt robotic protagonist, few things need to be kept in mind.
Robots does not mean a person without an emotion. In a science fiction novel, authors often do not lay emphasis on the “science” aspect. The story must have some logical or scientific truth to it and an emotionless, powerful robot destroys this very aspect if written after the year of 2002. There is a reason I chose the year 2002. In that year, it observed by the US intelligence CIA that people with dangerous, demented mentality chose the way of terrorism by linking with each other over the dark web. This idea was thought about by many entrepreneurs in the tech arena and hence, began the rise of social media. With this, algorithms were created. AI was invested upon.
The social media began to learn about which friends you need, which are the things you like and so on and provide you the best possible experience. Robots are also created these days which can mimic human capabilities and the example of Sophia in Saudi Arabia is the best example. Hence, if you are going for the robotic protagonist, make him clueless but do not make him less emotional. A robot must be emotional since he does understand how human feel, on a technological level.
The second idea would be to avoid incredible sizes, eccentric shapes and omnipotence unless you want to limit your stories to children. Include some imperfection in your robotic character. Normalise them. However, do not make the flaw of the robotic character so animated that it appears like a science-fiction novel from the 1970s. Let the reader guess. Our ultimate aim should be a story which the readers love. Remember. No one would love a steel instrument trying his best to be a protagonist unless the plot is too good. Let the character have a learning curve in the story line. No one loves a flavourless character.
Your robotic protagonist may have some strengths or special power. That thing should not have more than seven occurrences. Keep a count and follow the rule strictly. No one wants to read through the script of a Michael Bay movie line by line where creatures are dying with fireworks happening on every page. Maintain a consistent rhythm with the character. Allow him to talk, move around, watch the other humans do their job and speak about them but do not allow them to be an inanimate creature who loves action all the time. Even if your novel is about a fighting robot / android.
Lastly, do not make a caricature of your own character. It is easy to make a caricature of a sci-fi robotic character. I would love to share a personal tale on this one, only because what I’m about to share is a rejected / scrapped idea. One day, I received a message from an author who wanted his new script edited. I was glad that I was of some use and more so, because his manuscript was that of a science fiction. This person was a fellow Indian and there aren’t many sci-fi authors in India. I went through the pages and over there, the robotic superhero was made out of junkyard, was the product of a poor scientist’s invention and all the stereotypes one could find out there. Understand that having a robotic character as a protagonist is a risky gamble. This is because if you have a robotic character as a protagonist, most of the people would have made up their minds on how the book is about to be. You may also find readers who are willing to rate a book poor only because of this aspect so you need to grab all the attention you can in the first few pages.