Tinman Typist

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
When developers won't bother to do it right as long as the end user can live with it.

You would think that the marriage of biology and machinery would make it possible to do those things without lifting a finger. But instead, we see a drone amble over to a pylon, and do precisely that -- lift a finger. It presses a single button, then wanders off to push another button. So much for Borg efficiency.

Jim Wright's Voyager reviews, "Dark Frontier".

You see this all the time; robots (usually the Robot Buddy) or cyborgs using controls just like people do. That is; hitting buttons.

This leaves out the more interesting and probably easier path of forming some kind of short-range connection via cable or radio and just thinking at the computer in question. After all, Everything Is Online, right?

Possibly the writer is trying to hold back on clues that the character is a robot or perhaps the character is meant to be hiding the fact from other characters. After all how many people do you see with cables or wires sticking out of their ear? Besides it's harder to hack into human digits than a radio connection (unless you have a saw).

In visual media, it's most likely a case of Rule of Perception and the desire to have something actually happen on-screen. As thrilling as it might be to watch a robot send a wireless signal to a nearby computer, it wouldn't be very clear what it was accomplishing by doing so.

Examples of Tinman Typist include:

Anime and Manga

  • Something similar in the Ghost in the Shell film: There are at least two scenes in which we see cybernetically enhanced individuals extend their fingers into some highly dexterous tentacle-things which they then use to type on keyboards. Mind-links have been shown to exist and be common, so there is no good reason for having them do this.
    • Someone explained the GiTS example thusly: Mind Hacks. It happens often, it's disturbingly easy, and the only 100% sure defense is... to be offline. So the security secretaries were protecting themselves from being hacked so they wouldn't be put offline as a "living" firewall.
      • There was also Dr. Willis, a brown-haired suit-wearing fellow and an expert in AI, who hooked himself up to a computer with a cable to the neck port and then started typing with the same kind of fingers the secretaries had. No benefit was obvious on screen.
      • One still could do it offline, then let it be sent without real time end-to-end connections. Like some actual proxies do.
      • Not to mention that the above example may still apply even then; the same relative effect of a firewall can be had by requiring manual entry of some commands, especially if the neck port is set up to be a futuristic version of a mute terminal—think a computer with no keyboard or mouse hooked up.
  • Kamen no Maid Guy actually had Kogarashi with a cable sticking out of one ear to avert this.
  • Chachamaru from Mahou Sensei Negima has a few types of cords embedded in her finger for just this purpose. Never seen typing once.
  • Chobits had Persocoms typing.
    • Of course, Persocom behavior is more likely to be based on "looking cute" or at least "staying on the right side of the Uncanny Valley" than pure efficiency. One character has his laptop Persocom (a tiny robot) write some information with a pencil; when Hideki asks if she has to, he responds that no, he could hook her to the printer, but it's cute to see her use a pencil taller than she is.
  • Despite the fact that , as a data-based alien lifeform, Yuki Nagato could literally just talk to the computer and get it to do what she wanted. However, she prefers to simply type on her keyboard. In this case, it's justified, as Kyon asked her not to cheat by using her data manipulation abilities. And as we know, Yuki always listens to Kyon.
    • What makes Yuki an interesting example is she didn't know how to type when first presented with the laptop. As the week progresses, she goes from slowly typing with one finger to breezily touch-typing to blurringly fast typing that is just barely within the bounds of human capability.
    • There's also the fact she shouldn't be freaking out the natives, especially not to tip off Haruhi about aliens being real. As a result she probably has to do a lot of redundant tasks just to appear human. This is more evident in her apartment, where it seems like only the absolute basic necessities are there, and only because she had a guest. Otherwise it's just a place for her to disappear to after school.

Comic Books

  • Used but averted in the Devil's Due G.I. Joe vs. Transformers Generation 1. Optimus Prime is able to hack Cobra's communications system just from being plugged in, but when Wheeljack sees the signal on the Joe's computer, he extends a bunch of mini-fingers to use their computer to trace it back. Possibly justified in Wheeljack's case as he didn't have too much time to find a compatible port, and just jacking into a system watched over by armed soldiers is kinda rude.


  • WALL-E does this when he's trying to stop his runaway escape pod, especially slamming the Big Red Button. Justified because WALL-E does not have a clue about what he's doing, and is clearly just smacking the panel at random hoping one thing or another will save him. Played straight for the robots on the ship: despite in some cases being literally built into the walls, they still type on control panels. One might justify this as simply them simply adapting to formerly human-run systems, but still.
    • This seems to be the sole (intended) purpose of AUTO. An explanation is that the builders of the ark ships may have wanted to make sure the captain knows what AUTO is doing. It also allows the current captain of the Axiom to physically wrassle with AUTO.
    • Especially awkward is EVE's shuttle, which extends down a container capsule, then extends an arm that removes EVE's pod from the capsule, then brings out an extremely complex, bulky, robotic finger whose only purpose is to enter the access code that opens the pod and releases her.
  • In the horror movie, VIRUS, the title monstrosity uses a computer to issue commands, despite being an energy being that control electronics by possessing them.
  • In Alien Resurrection. One of the crew members of the Betty (Annalee, Wynona Ryder's character) is actually an android, but as they are under-cover, they have to use regular interfaces on the computers. At least until The Reveal.
    • Justified because, being a fugitive, of a sort, she "burned her modem" and thus her ability to wirelessly connect with machines.
  • Averted in the original Star Wars trilogy; we never see C-3PO typing, only R2-D2 'talking' to various computers and electronic devices via his little hook-ups.
    • Star Wars, interestingly enough, uses both. R2, as noted above, uses direct connections to interface with controls, but C-3P0 occasionally uses buttons and controls like a human even flying the ship in Episode 3. Interfacing ability apparently depends on the type of robot.
      • R2-D2 is designed to be plugged into a starship or whatever, so he has the interfacing. C-3PO is a protocol droid, built for translation, under normal circumstances he would never need to interface with anything.
      • He interfaces with people. Assuming he's intended to be diplomatic, it would be really bad if he started pushing peoples' buttons.
    • In another variation of the trope, the combat droids relay orders and communicate with each other verbally. A possible explanation is that they're built to be inaccessible over networks to prevent hacking.
      • Could also be a feature meant as a convenience for anyone working around the robots who don't have a wireless connection (since the droids DO depend on some sort of connection with their mothership, at least in Episode One). If you work around military robots, it might be helpful for you to know when one of them is about to shoot at something in your direction.


  • In Isaac Asimov's The Caves of Steel, a character brings up the question of why robots always seem to be built as humanoids; part of the given answer was that when designing a general-purpose machine, it was simplest to have it use tools and control mechanisms made for human use.
    • Worth noting is that even when computers entered mass production, the manufacturers of computer hardware and software stressed incompatibility with their competitors' products, and without the forces leading to the ARPAnet things could have progressed further in that direction. It's not unreasonable to have a sci-fi setting in which robots wouldn't be capable of direct machine-to-machine links with most systems in their environment.

Live Action TV

  • Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
    • Possibly a character point, as Data is trying to be human and can already type much faster than the typical human so he likely won't use his capacity for an Unusual User Interface to link with the ship... which he did use at least once.
    • Averted in early appearances of the Borg on Star Trek: The Next Generation, where I believe borg drones were shown accessing computers by jamming probes into them or by wireless voodoo (this was the late 80s/early 90s, it was voodoo). In "The Best of Both Worlds," Locutus is shown just looking at a viewer and it shows him what he wants to see. Possibly symptomatic of Villain Decay, later Voyager episodes showed Borg manipulating input devices.
    • Speaking of Voyager, notice that the Doctor (not that one, this one's a hologram) is constantly talking to the computer or pressing buttons. Could be Justified in that an emergency replacement doctor doesn't necessarily need to communicate with the main computer. Also, he does want to be a Real Boy.
  • Rommie on Andromeda which can be maddening since Rommie is the ship. The depiction of the levels of interconnectivity has varied at different times, and she has alway been depicted as a different "consciousness" than the main computer so it may be justified. However you might still expect that an android specifically designed (by Harper) for the ship should be able to connect up in other ways.
  • Marvin on The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
    • Marvin sometimes uses vocal commands. In the TV version he opens the black spaceship's airlock by saying "Abracadiodularservosystems". It would be hard to judge whether he would find a plug in or voice control easier. He'd certainly be depressed by either option.
    • It's for the ship's sake. It would kill itself if it directly connected to Marvin.
  • Averted in Battlestar Galactica, when Athena wires directly into the ship to stop the virus...which raises the question of how the hell the Cylons are identical to humans if they have computer parts inside their arms!
    • The Cylons sometimes choose to play this straight, but usually in situations when they're pretending to be human (such was the computers with keyboards on the hospital on Caprica where Starbuck was held by Simon).
    • Similarly averted by the control mechanisms of Cylon baseships, which are neural links created by sticking your hand in goo. Humans are never shown doing this, implying that it (like the wire-in-the-arm above) is a unique aspect of Cylon physiology. Presumably they have very unusual control over the electrical pulses of their nervous system.
      • These are optical/fiber optic interfaces rather than electrical. Cylons have some kind of bioluminescence (especially before glowing-spine-sex was Retconned out).
  • Alpha 5 of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
  • Averted in one episode of Babylon 5 where a cyborg assassin communicates with his controller by jamming his finger into a data port.
  • Averted similarly in the Stargate SG-1 episode Gemini, where Repli Carter enters a huge amount of data into a computer by sticking her hand into it.
    • Played straight however in episodes of Stargate Atlantis involving a similar race of machines (the Asurans) who are trying to emulate the Ancients and so operate a lot of their technology by hand.

Video Games

  • Secundo the Projected Man in Beyond Good and Evil types (Hard Light?) at a computer control panel near the end of the game. He does seem to do just a bit more than this, though, since he manages to somehow transform the Robo Speak-ing computer to a Female Computer.
    • Why would the AI on a technologically advanced purse have the ability to communicate wirelessly with an alien military computer?
  • Robo from Chrono Trigger does this frequently. Justified in that the consoles he uses were formerly human-run, and we don't see any evidence in the concept art that he could hook up. Technology in their 2000 AD doesn't appear to have gotten that far.
  • In Mass Effect 2, the AI EDI literally becomes the Normandy, with full control over all of its systems. Despite that, when she gains control of a robot body, her robot body will sit in the cockpit and use the controls there similarly to every other crewmember, even though she has absolutely no reason to do so. Possibly she's doing other things that she can't do even with control over the Normandy's internal systems, or maybe she just wishes to appear more human to the rest of the crew.

Web Comics

Did you know? Our hand-drawn animation department is now staffed entirely by robots!

Western Animation

  • T-AI in Transformers: Robots in Disguise, made all the more inexplicable by the fact that she's actually a hologram generated by the very computer she's operating.
  • More generally, the original Transformers use manual controls for everything, up to and including transforming a city into a fortress in Transformers: The Movie. And almost none of them seemed to have built-in radios.
  • Averted in The Zeta Project. Zee has a data spike which he can insert into any number of computer systems for a direct connection.
  • In the Justice League episode "Twilight" not only does Brainiac use a keypad, he uses a keypad that's built into his own body!