While I agree that robots are often used to symbolize the “other,” I think we as humans require that “other” to define ourselves as human. We cannot see ourselves unless we can define what we are not (Foucault, Derrida, etc.), but in doing this we often rely on other cultures, languages, or skin colors as the other.
Psychologically, it is a basic part of how we define ourselves. I would rather that defined negation could be focused on the completely inhuman (see Peter Hamilton or Alastair Reynolds), but we still tend to define the other in human terms. Robots assume a biped stature, aliens merely possess different ears and skin colors.
The pressure to define the self through the not-self occurs from the individual level to the societal. Robots form a convenient shorthand to indicate both this and the “future” setting as Moskowitz discusses. There is, however, no reason to restrict robots to the human body plan except as a way to highlight both self-identification and other-awareness in the reader. Anne McCaffrey (The Ship Who Sang), Alastair Reynolds, and others have all offered the robotic other outside of the stereotypical human plan, as well as suggest futures in which the other serves as a unifying force for humanity.
What are the odds that the need to define the self through negation will ever go away? And then to what should humanity aim that need? It is often the case that pop-cultural portrayals of aliens/robots are often simplistic stand-ins for our human others, and therein lies the necessity of speaking out about this, but I find it interesting that Reid focuses on these portrayals rather than attempting to locate a significantly different other. The question still remains as to whether a human author could really conceive of an other which is completely separate, but I believe that those I mention here have made some attempt.
More recent sf novels have taken on the task of mitigating the racial other, while others leave cultural determination strictly to readers. As in reader-response theory, the reader will often self-identify with the hero, projecting identity if none is provided. Aside from name, then, what does the reader rely on? We know that dialogue and inflection often convey a socio-economic subtext, and that readers will often apply a racial subtext on top of that one, but if the author allows this to happen and then subverts the reader’s expectation? Conscientious management of the relation between the reader-self, the hero-self, and the other can be attained. The truly alien other offers a real counterpoint to the similarity of all humans; the truly strange robot offers the same opportunity. The use of power differentials between human and other is often merely plot convenience, determined by the essential need for conflict in popular fiction as a selling point. The portrayals of global culture are often (with few exceptions) anchored in the author’s dominant upbringing, but can anyone imagine a homogenized global culture outside of the birth culture?