Word Origin: Android

We have all heard the word android. Google made a huge splash when they launched the operating system Android for mobiles and tablets. Though many mobile companies launched Android phones, Samsung created a wave with its Galaxy series which posed stiff competition to Apple. All this has made us think that Android is the new tech word, coined by perhaps Google. But this idea is wrong.


The word Android was in existence about 1000 years ago and means ‘like man.’ It is formed by the Greek words ‘andro’ meaning man and ‘eides’ meaning ‘form or shape.’ In the 12th century St Albertus Magnus created an automaton which was like a human and called it android. In modern terms, we can say that he created the first robot. Yes, Android was the name of the first robot.

Though St Albertus is now regarded as one of the greatest scientist, people in his era thought of him as a magician and alchemist. Literature of his time says that he used angels from the netherworld and the powers of the philosopher’s stone to create metals and material unknown to this world. He then chose the metals according to the stars and planets. With them he built the android. Some reports say this automaton, for which St Albertus worked for thirty years, could speak, think and some believe that it even had a soul. This invention wasn’t to live long. St Albertus’ student St Thomas Aquinas destroyed it, for he thought it was a tool of satan and blasphemous.


With this origin, no doubt the word was later used for things like robots, before the term robot took over. Android finds mentions in US Patents in as early as 1863, with reference to small human-like toy automatons. It was popularised in 1886, by French author Auguste Villiers de I’Isle-Adam in his science-fiction book, The Future Eve. The story is about a fictional scientist Edison who builds a mechanical woman called Halady. The android Halady is not only beautiful, but is also intelligent and has a strong personality. Another character Lord Ewald is close to suicide because of his fiancé Alicia Clary, who he says is physically perfect but is emotionally and intellectually empty. It is then that Edison suggests the idea of an android to Ewald. The scientist creates Halady, who looks exactly like Alicia, but is without her personality. Ewald falls in love with the android and goes away with her. Before they can get home, the ship they are travelling in sinks, killing Ewald and destroying the android, Halady.

Jack Williamson


Later English science-fiction writers used the term starting with Jack Williamson, who used the term in his 1936 series The Cometeers, published as a series in a magazine, and later made into a novel. But in 1921, the word robot was introduced by Karel Capek in his play, ‘Rossum’s Universal Robots. This term was used in place of androids.


Now, there is a distinction between androids and robots. This distinction was brought by Edmond Hamilton’s sci-fi series Captain Future. He said that mechanical automatons were robots, but those with flesh or resembling humans in performance were androids. For instance, the Rajnikanth look-a-like automaton in the Tamil film Endhiran, and Shahrukh Khan look-a-like in RaOne are androids. So is Robin William’s character in Bicentennial Man. But RoboCop who has a mechanical body and the likes are robots.

Coming back to the now popular meaning of android, which is the mobile operating system, it staretd in a small company called Android Inc, in California in 2003. Google acquired this company in 2005 and founded the Open Hnadset Alliance, a consortium of 86 hardware, software and telecommunications companies. Android was launched into the market in 2008.


Now, we know Android, by what Google has popularised it as. Philip K Dick, the author of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep coined the word Andy. But we now know Andy as the little green man which is the icon of Android. The novelist wrote, “The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words.” The tech companies seem to have achieved it to a great extent.


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