The word robot was coined in 1921 from the Czech word "robotta" meaning compulsory labor. Since then, we've been treated to a variety of science fiction tales about these technological creations. Today's personal robots can do little more than talk, move around, and pick up lightweight objects. Experts believe that someday the robot will evolve into a companion and information base, similar to C3PO in the Star Wars trilogy. With their fast silicon brains and their tireless bodies, these intelligent machines will be capable of round-the-clock work, creative thought, and perhaps even independent action.

In Short Circuit, a thoroughly enjoyable fantasy flick, the president of Nova Robotics (Austin Pendleton) demonstrates a group of sophisticated robots before some military brass. Costing $11 million each, these mobile units are equipped with deadly lasers that make them ideal killing machines.

When No. 5 is struck by lightning, it malfunctions and escapes from the laboratory. Newton Crosby (Steve Guttenberg), who originally programmed the robots, and his associate (Fisher Stevens) set out to retrieve the wayward one. A gung-ho security officer (G. W. Bailey) from Nova Robotics wants to blow up No. 5, which he views as a "stupid contraption."

No. 5 finds sanctuary with Stephanie (Ally Sheedy), a young woman who drives a snack van and whose home is a shelter for stray animals. At first, Stephanie thinks No. 5 is an extraterrestrial being; later, she learns that he has refashioned his circuitry. The ultimate killing machine is now a peacenik who no longer wants to kill — or "disassemble."

No. 5 digests new "input" by speed reading Stephanie's set of encyclopedias and her dictionary; and he views hours of nonstop television. Soon the lovable robot is doing John Wayne impressions, spouting advertising jingles, and even miming John Travolta's dancing from Saturday Night Fever.

Since this is a fantasy film, No. 5 outwits his enemies (he even reprograms three robots who are pursuing him and turns them into the Three Stooges). In the end, he laughs. This "spontaneous emotional response" convinces his creator Newton Crosby that "No. 5 is alive." Short Circuit's happy ending will bring out the child in everyone.