30 April 2014

What Will We Fight Over: Robot Apocalypse

One of the most common genesis of future wars in science fiction is involving a conflict between the flesh and the metal; the humans and the robot. While a war against our iPhones, Xboxs, and Honda's ASIMO robot seems unlikely today, will the human race one day regret the invention of intelligent machines? Will that day began and end in mushroom clouds, or the rise of the machines murdering their fleshy meatbag masters? Most sci-fi creators think so, and with the continued computerization of our society and military, the end could be fast approaching. So, in the continuing series of What Will We Fight Over, here is the robot apocalypse. On a personal note, I always believed in my 1980's childhood that the machines would rise up. So, to get in the right mood for this blogpost, I listened to a ton of Retro New Wave/Synthwave music.

What is an Robot Apocalypse?
This type of future war can take several scenarios, depending on the level of sophistication of the robots and/or AI technology. But at the heart of the "revolt of the robots" is simply that the intelligent machines that serve us arrival at a common conclusion: kill the humans. This conflict can be the result of a bug, hackers, or just they are tired of our shit. Certainly, sci-fi projects nuclear wars, heavily armed cyborgs sweeping the streets clear of the fleshy ones, and armed drones attacking from above.
However, a robot apocalypse could be simple and semi-bloodless...the master control AI program could just lock humanity out of their entire computer network. Forcing humanity to return to mother nature and live like the Amish. Another element of the sci-fi trope of the robot apocalypse is the name.
According to the gods of Wikipedia, the technical term for robots rebelling, is "Cybernetic Revolt", however, I prefer the term "Robot Apocalypse" better. The best way to sum up the sci-fi robot apocalypse is what Captain Picard said in the episode "Arsenal of Freedom": "You poor fools, your own creation destroyed you."

The Road to Hell: Continued Automation of Society and the Military

I was born in the late 1970's, and my generation was the first to have computers in the classroom, home video game consoles, and simple pet robots for sale at the local Radio Shack. Before I reached the age of 40, the computerization of society and the indoctrination of the future generations seems complete. If the robots wanted us dependent on technology, they have won. I can still remember the rarity of mobile phones, home computer (especially laptops), and how far off some of the computer systems seemed in Star Trek: TNG, but we have moved so fast with technology, and while that can be a great thing, it also can represent  Part of what could shape the likelihood of the robot apocalypse is military-spec humanoid robotic soldiers that could replace and augment the smaller army model, as well as humanoid worker robots being used in greater roles. This future seems locked in. Quite recently, the US Army is drawing up plans to downsize their force from over a million to somewhere around 420,000. This pared down force is to be leaner, meaner, and more mobile than before. In order to achieve this and still maintain certain elements, the US Army is looking at robots to fill in the gaps. This will mean that more robots will be on the battlefield, however, the Pentagon does say that robot designed to kill will have to relay on a human to push the button. Which is somewhat of a comfort.
Military robots will be mules, workers, drones (air, seal, and land), and we expect if these robots pass the lengthy torturous tests designed for military approval, we can expect the technology to enter our lives as well. Already, the Japanese are looking towards humanoid robots like Honda's ASIMO to work at retirement homes and skilled nursing facilitates to take care of the old while the young work. We could robot security drones at warehouses, banks, and docks...because they will never get tire or bitch about the coffee or pay.
 Sounds good, right? Yes, but at a price. If we integrate robots into a society, we become a society depend on that technology...just look at mobile phones, and we could be integrating our own undoing. Robots are only evil if designed or programmed to do so, and if robots are everywhere, terrorists and enemies could use them to harm our society, or we could misuse them and degrade our society. I've always loved robots, and look forward to their use in our society, and they could be the answer to some things, but we should be mindful. Humanity should build Honda ASIMOs and not Cyberdyne Systems Model T-101s. Allowing robots the ability and skill to kill for us is dangerous and could lead to something horrible. The pitfalls of robots can be summed up with this quote from Carl Sagan: "We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology. That is a clear prescription for disaster."

Could a Robot Apocalypse Really Happen?
Science fiction seems pretty clear about the connection between artificial intelligence and the end of the world as we know. However, the robot apocalypse cannot happen today or even in the near future. Robots are simply not networked enough to allow for a mass uprising, nor are they complex enough to pose a threat. At best, all some faulty and/or hacked computer system could do is wiped out your Call of Duty records, hack your email, and bring down the power grid and steal your financial information. You know, small things compared to the sci-fi vision of combat human-form exoskeletons charging down your street with blazing plasma rifles in a 40 watt range. While the computerization of society and the robotization of the military allows for great tools for an robot apocalypse, there is one key ingredients needed: an artificial intelligence capable of unleashing an robot apocalypse with the desired scale and coordination to undo the human race. There could more localized variants of the classic sci-fi revolt of the robots scenario, like machines at a plant going haywire or the computer system onboard a long-range starship freaking out and singing "Daisy", or a driverless car being used as a battering ram, but the SKYNET scenario will take computer systems with integration and networking abilities that we just do not yet possess. Consider that there fully intelligent animals, like dolphins, cats, dogs, and cattle, and all of these animals have suffered greatly at the hands of humans with crimes that should warrant violent separation. Last time I checked, cows are not killing humans for making hamburgers out of them, and armed dolphins are not marching down the streets of Tokyo. Yet.
While the robot apocalypse is not on the horizon, what about the far future? Back in 1965, British mathematician I.J. Good wrote that an "ultraintelligent machine" could be the last invention of mankind. This machine would be natural faster, more logically, effective at its goals, and have a greater pool of data to make decisions from than the average human, but would this make the uber-smart computer a danger to mankind? Would an AI matrix conspire to kill humanity? Computers are tasked with carrying out instruction programmed by humans, and working on that task until it is accomplished.. In the pages of the Dark Horse Ghost in the Shell manga graphic novel, the Fuchikoma mecha suits that Section 9 uses have an impressive A.I. ability, and every once and while, they test the waters of these intelligence machines by "gifting" one of these suits to get the idea to lead an revolt of the robots against their fleshy masters. Most of the time, the Fuchikomas realize that there is no benefit to a revolt of the robots and that they need humans, and enslaving humans would be more complex than the current situation.Any machine intelligence would also know that it needs humans for certain tasks and there would have to be some benefit to wiping out humans and if that goal could be accomplished.
Unlike with humans, robots and computers have a great deal of follow-through and focus on assigned tasks.It seems to me, that an overarching machine intelligence would almost needed to be told to kill humans rather than arrive at that conclusion on its own. After all, why would we program an AI matrix with the same flawed human emotions. Would we program something better to allow for it to make better decisions than we make as a species?  I think the real robot apocalypse would come if a computer was not programmed correctly or that safe-guards were not installed, or some one used to achieve their wet dream of world domination.

What a War Against the Machines Look Like?

Already there is a war against the machines being waging every minute of everyday. Cyber-attacks, hacking, spamming, and other forms of cyber-crime that have forged their own industry of countermeasures of virus software. Why this is humans using the computer against other humans and other systems, it still is a form of combat against the machine. This could be the beginning of robot apocalypse, a cyber-attack to bring down the defense, followed by drones. However, for this to happen, these machines would have to be organization enough across varying types of machines, and have access to repair and production facilitates.
I've read that fighting a war against the machines would be similar to high level game of chess. The computer would figure out your tactics and style by engaging test skirmish, then it would use that data to mount a more effective offensive and/or defense. The machines would learn how to fight humans, how to secure what they needed to wage the war, and how to fool us. However, they would not be as clever or adaptable as humans. These machines would evolve quickly, constructing new models to deal with the pesky humans, and attempting to access any data networks that they linked together. One aspect of war against of machines would be numbers, they would naturally have more, and be able to replace them much easier than any human resistance organization. One element of the war against the machine is that the primary machine soldier will be a humanoid combat drone, however, it could be more likely that the machines would field something like the drones from Oblivion or the MQ-27 "Dragonfire" UAVs from Call of Duty: Black Ops II

Robot Apocalypse Scenarios

1.The Super Computer Loses It's Shit
A common fear that is well represented in sci-fi and mainstream fiction is continued computerization will allow super-computers the ability to unleash an apocalypse. The Daystrom M-5 mutitronic unit, Skynet, HAL-9000 are all examples a computer behaving badly, and in the case of Skynet, a computer killing over three billion people. Why do these super computers decided to destroy their creators? In the case of Skynet, it was defending itself against the operators were trying to unplug after Skynet achieved self-awareness, and launching the nukes was quickest way to end the threat of mankind. In the case of the HAL-9000 and Jean from Virtuality, there is an error in the program or that the system is just too smart for its own good, and given that these computers control the deep space ship, the peril to the crew is much higher. The likelihood of a super computer being the instrument of the robot apocalypse is higher if we are considering computer onboard deep space ships. I doubt that any government will place their complete trust and/or nuclear arsenal in the hands of a Skynet or a WOPR.  

2. Hackers/Mad Scientist Turn the Tin-Cans Against Us
With the dependency of modern society on computers and the internet to run effectively creates a massive Achilles’ heel for hackers, terrorists, mad scientists, and Bond villains. If we indeed live in a future were intelligence robots and computer system dominate our daily lives (that most likely, will be built by Apple), it could be possible for an evildoer to capitalize on this. We have seen this in the A.I. rebel in Space: Above and Beyond, and in the recent Call of Duty: Black Ops II when the United States drone forces are hacked and used against the US. Gaining access to network that controls drones, robotic soldiers, or even a military super computer could allow for mass chaos and confusion enabling an enemy to invade. Even at a low-level, if a hacker gained access to an armed drone, they could attack friendly forces or a friendly target. This may be one of the most likely robot apocalypse scenarios...especially if Doctor Insano gets his way! 

3. They Not Longer Want to be Our Slaves
Some sci-fi stories have pointed to an outbreak of robot revolution originating from the robots no long wanting to be our slaves. Such was the case for the Cylons in the reimagined BSG. For this scenario to play out, the robots have to more independent than today’s machines and robots. For example, my Xbox 360 never refused to work based on it being tired of me gaming, or my iPhone never refused to make a call or send a text based on being on a break. Some writers have attributed a robot revolt to liberate themselves from our servant being a product of humans wanting robots to have choice and free will.  

4. Out-of-Control Robotic Soldiers
Robots are already on the frontline of war, and with armed UGVs, robot pack mules, and unmanned strike fighters on the near horizon, robots will pay an even greater part in future wars. Today, bipedal military robots are under developed, and some fear that these will that lead to a robot apocalypse. They reason that once robotic soldiers become a reality, they will be fielded by nations instead of the meat bags, and thus, wars will be fought between machines. Lovely. This brings about an situation were robotic soldiers, devoid of the Three Laws, murder humans who belong to the enemy. It is possibly that each nation could mutually destroy the other via robotic soldiers, or lose the ability to shut down the tin-cans. Robot soldiers out of control could happen if there is a major software error or there is a security breach. 

5. Them or Us
Some robot apocalypse scenario plays out with robots deciding that their existence is more important than human, and they are the New Order and the rightful inheritors of Terra. Once again, for this to work, robots would have to be nearly or fully independent of humans, and they were have to be a struggle for resources, space, or energy to force a conflict and a choice between them or us. Some point to robotic abuse in the 2001 film A.I. Artificial Intelligence as a rally call for robots to rise up and kill the meat bags. 

6. The Next Step in Evolution
Given the level of adaption of new technology in the last 20 years by our society, how it has changed our lives, and how trendy have the right piece of technology is, we could be laying the foundation of the robot apocalypse one iPhone at a time. Much like the superior 1997 film Gattaca, where genetic engineering is nearly required to be a full member of society. Cybernetics could be the same, as seen in the society of Ghost in the Shell. In order to get certain jobs, or enter a certain level of society, you need to be enhanced. Certain types of enhancements could also be needed for everyone, or become trendy, like iPhones. Instead of Skynet or the Borg, the robot apocalypse could be us doing to ourselves. There could also be that humans or some humans view cybernetics as the next logical step in our evolution. This could be one of the most likely scenarios for an robot apocalypse.

7. Killer Robotic Aliens from Outer Space! 
In the over 300 billion stars in the Milky Way, the 200 galaxies in the known universe, and the countless worlds, it is nearly certain that intelligence robots dominate on one of those worlds orbiting one of those stars. These alien robots could achieve space travel, then FTL technology, and then we get alien killer robots from outer space! Science fiction has been using the idea of robotic alien invaders since its early days, and it seems to strike a cord in the fears and interests of fans. The trend continues today with examples like the Tet from 2013's Oblivion and re imagination of the old Doctor Who nemesis: the Daleks and the Cyberman. It is likely that alien robots will invade our little blue world? That depends on a great deal of variables. If there is other sentinel life in the universe. If other alien civilizations constructed intelligent cybernetic life. If these alien robotic intelligence revolted and murdered their meat bag masters. If interstellar travel is possible and the robots bothered to invent it. And the biggest if is if these space traveling robots decide to invade the homeworlds of other sentinel lifeforms to impose their robotic will on them or just wiped them out. My hope is that any intelligent robotic species that shows up on the front law of the White House is there in peace and not to wipe us because we are organic.

8. The Zeroth Law
In Isaac Asimov's "The Evitable Conflict" from 1950, powerful computers alter human society to protect mankind from itself, and prevent harm. This was alteration to the First Law of Robotics, and Asimov himself would name the Fourth Law with 1985's Robots and the Empire, christening it "the Zeroth Law". This idea of robots acting in the best interest of humanity by taking control of our species collective destiny is an interesting one, and a type of revolt of the robot scenarios that reminds me of when my mother would say "it's for your own good." Our own creations could step in, prevent our own destruction, and taking over. It could be a fucking utopia, or it could be hell. It could be the Garden of Eden with robots attending to us, liberating us from the hard decisions, or it could be us like Logan's Run, a gilded cage.

9. We Were Just Following Our Program
One can make the case that robots are only as bad as their programming and programmer makes them. Look, humans can be really dicks to one another, and just like Ripley said in ALIENS: "You know, Burke, I don't know which species is worse. You don't see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage." Humans  will use robots, like we do now, to achieve their own goals and they could unleash a robot apocalypse by just attempting to fuck someone over and achieve their goals. David and Ash are great examples of the company Wayland-Yutani using their artificial persons as far-flung agents of their desires and plans. Both were douchebags, but both were following their programming to be so. These localization and micro-examples of a robot apocalypse are a symbol of how humans could program their own doom.  

10. "They're Either a Beneficent or a Hazard"
Another type of robot apocalypse is when people themselves feel threatened by the role of the machines in their daily lives. Often groups like human liberation fronts will spring up and force public and/or political change via protests and violence. The Rep-Det “Blade Runner” units from the film are a good example of social fears of the machine taking root and a” war against the machine” being enacted proactively. A robot apocalypse scenario could not be a dramatic event like a nuclear exchange or an invasion, maybe just that robots are taking our jobs and they look like a threat. It’s happened before…

11. Contamination via Probe
Space agencies have been taking laborious measures to ensure that their expensive space probes are protected against contamination and environmental damage. The same process is also to ensure that our Terran microbes do not contamination off-world ecosystems. However, not system is prefect, and sci-fi has predicted that robotic probes sent to explore distant worlds could be the ambassadors of an robot apocalypse. Consider the ST:VOY episode “Friendship One”, where a Terran anti-matter powered deep space probe allows for an alien civilization to gain knowledge of anti-matter technology well before they were ready for it, and it ends up nearly destroying their entire race.

The Machine God
Some sci-fi writers have explored the concept of if an self-aware machine consciences could become a god to humans? Many of the works that explore this theme use the setup of an caretaker AI that oversees humans on a far-flung colonization mission or even embryonic space colonization. Some of this plays into the Zeroth Law, and could be humans misinterpreting the role of the AI, but sometimes it is by design, and could mean the surrounding of free-will to a machine. Some alien astronaut theorists have cited the Eden story in the Bible as a possible prehistoric example. Frank Herbert featured a machine god and the forgotten colony theme in his books: Destination: Void, The Jesus Incident, and the Lazarus Effect. The same is true of the outstanding Samaria series by Sharon Shinn, detailing "angels" that communicate to a machine god-ship in orbit called Jovah. Depending on the nature of space travel and if we can develop FTL, it is likely that an advanced AI system will oversee human embryonic space colonization missions.

Science Fiction and the Robot Apocalypse
Science fiction has always been a vehicle for the public and the creators to explore and interrogate commonly held fears while being easily packaged in story. One of these commonly held fears, is of the computers taking over and waging a genocide against their creators. Given that most humans are passionate about the freedom of choice and ability to live their lives as they see it (even if it is an illusion most of the time), the very nature of computers and robots are alien to human behavior and experiences. While we created them, we don't trust them completely. This idea that once we create intelligent machines, we risk ourselves and our species survival, and this is seen in countless works of sci-fi, from The Terminator, to BLADE RUNNER, to Mass Effect. The popularity and setting of these fictional robot apocalypse stories often reflect the time period, and during the 1980's, the genre reached its zenith after the whining popularity after the 1960's. Combined with the threat of nuclear war, the popularity of electronic music, the revolution of personal electronics, the 1980's were futile ground for revolt of the robots stories, movies, and especially gaming, both in paper and electronic forms. With the increasing development of military robots, and personal electronic devices, the concept (and technophobia) of incoming doom by the hands of the machines remains popular in the new millennium, as seen in the Daniel H. Wilson's 2011 novel "Robopocalypse" and Battlestar Galactica.


Back in 1982, during the video game crazy, Williams Electronics put a unique and manic video game in arcades around the United States that was an upgrade to the game Robots that was developed with the Berkeley Software Distribution program, and was turned based. That game was Robotron: 2084, and it quickly became one of the popular video games of its time. It was ported to various systems, including my beloved ATARI 7800. This 7800 game was popular with me and my friends back in the day. The basic story of Robotron: 2084 was drawn from video game Berzerk and the book 1984, and by putting the player in the middle of the screen, it was shown to induce panic, making the player on edge and ready to fight. While there was never much in the way of backstory to games of the 1980's, there was brief story mentioned in the 7800 game manual (remember those?): In the year 2084, secret military lunar base #0712Z develops a new race of artificial life, called the Robotron. This were different than the servant bots of the day, because the Robotron could think and act. That was bad for humanity. They broke out from the lunar base, and invaded Earth, using reprogramed humans as part of their army. Humanity's sole change of continued survival was you and your anti-robot raygun. Your job was to rescue the remains of the cloned humans from the Robotron invasion. I was thought, even back when I had an ATARI 7800 that chose of "cloned" to describe the remaining human families was odd.

Oblivion (2013) 
One of the most beautiful sci-fi movies recently was 2013's Oblivion, and it was an excellent example of an alien cybernetic invasion...as long as you didn't think about the movie too deeply. If you have not seen Oblivion be warned SPOILERS AHEAD!
Tom Cruise's character of Jack (why does he play so many characters named Jack?), and the beautiful Andrea Riseborough as Victoria unknowingly serve the invading AI space station nicknamed "the Tet".
They falsely believe that they are protecting the future of humanity and the relocation operation to Titan. When in reality, they are serving the machines that devastated human civilization and their continued rape of Earth. While the movie explores Jack's character in loving detail, the motivations of the Tet are never explained or explored, nor the origins. Who built the Tet and why as it a predatory marauder   Oblivion features some of the best visuals in any sci-fi movie since Prometheus, and the one of the best soundtracks as well. The drone design is one of the best ever in science fiction cinema, and in someways, more creepy and effective than the Skynet T-101 models. Despite the minefield of plot-holes, I love this movie.  

One of the great video games of the early 1980's was undoubtedly Berzerk by Stern Electronics of Chicago, and the game creator, Alan McNeil, said the game's basic concept came from a dream. Berzerk own it's development to an older robots-vs.-humans game called Robots developed with the Berkeley Software Distribution program. The name of the game came from a series of sci-fi novels, and the evil robot god, Evil Otto was taken from Dave Otto, the security chief at one of Alan's previous jobs. The game was released in 1980 for the arcade, and was an early hit for the verging video game market. One of the element's for its popularity, which I can remember, was that the game spoke.Groundbreaking stuff in the 1980. This popularity led to the breaking of the then complex joystick. Berzerk  enjoyed some bad press back in the early 1980's, when several deaths were linked to people attempting to beat the high score on the arcade machines. One of the first games that my brother and I got for our ATARI 2600 back in 1982 was Berzerk, and it was very popular to play with friends and talking shit.
There is really nothing on the story of what the hell is going on in Berzerk, so I dug back into my memory and recalled a story I wrote back as a child in the 1980's detailing the events playing out on my ATARI 2600. They said planetary surveying was easy money. They sad it was safe. That was until we found this cloud-blanketed world, and when we entered lower orbit for deep scan, we were attacked. Within seconds, the ship was crumbling, and I raced for the escape pod. The landing was not what you would call textbook. The pod crashed through an massive alien complex that was hundreds of miles in reach direction. All I had was my wits and my laser pistol. Both came in handy when I met them...these metal monsters that seem to be everywhere. They died easy enough, but there always more. The true terror in those darkened hallways and corridors was a great smiling ball, like an one of those trickster gods from the old tales, always smiling as it tries to pound you into a bloody pulp. I ran and fired through the maze, hoping to find an exit. Each step is away from that smiling ball of terror. I run. I shoot. I run. I shoot. I survive. When will I stop? 

The Metal Wars from Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future

In the opening of the 1987 TV show, the war between man and the machines is called "The Metal Wars", and despite the 1980's cheesy goodness of the short lived TV series that mimicked The Terminator, there was an interesting story behind their version of the robot apocalypse. In the mid-21st century, wars were fought not with human soldiers, but legions of "Bio-Mechs", and it was believed that these machines would bring an end to war. However, it only had created a worse situation, and there were those that feared an endless war that could end humanity. Two computer scientists, Dr. Power and Dr. Taggart decided to create a supercomputer called Overmind to take control of the world's robotic armies and end their usage via this controlling computer system.
Power and Taggart could have been the saviors of humanity and end war. Yeah...not so much. Taggart was obsessed with immortality and thought by hooking into Overmind, that he could live forever and impose his vision of a utopia on the planet via his control of Bio-Mech armies. At this time, the human element of the military was quite small, and if Taggart could control the global Bio-Mech armies, there would be no force to stop him. When he and Overmind attacked, the Metal Wars began in 2132. The war did not last long, and soon most of the major cities were burned-out hulks and Taggart had constructed a vast base, and Dr. Power was killed. All seems lost, and the human race began to die out. When the show picked in 2147, there was an new age of darkness, and humanity was disappearing. Dr. Power's son had formed an elite resistance group, the Soldiers of the Future that used Dr. Power's final gift: the Powersuits.
These allow for a number human to construct an exoskeleton with armor and weapons, making for an impressive platform of man-on-machine combat. For the one season run of the show, Captain Power and merry band of future warriors attempt to bring an end to the cybernetic Taggart and Overmind. The show was penned by the creator of Babylon 5 and was mix of a long toy advert along with an military sci-fi television show that dealt with hard important issues while wearing gold armor. At this time, I was seriously into robot apocalypse products, especially, The Terminator dark future, and Captain Power seemed geared toward my interests. While The Metal Wars fascinated me back in 1987, today, the show is comical and the robot apocalypse seems forced feed. After all, the Bio-Mechs are no were near the shit-your-pants terrifying as the T-101 exoskeletons. Recently, the show was on DVD in high quality, and there has been an attempt to relight the show. Depending on certain elements, FWS may buy the DVD set and often some sort of in-depth article.

The War with the Machine from the TERMINATOR Universe
For many, the iconic robot apocalypse of science fiction is found in The Terminator, and the dark future of 2029 presented in the first two films and the TV series is truly a terrifying place where the machines rule and humanity is nearly extinct. We all know the story: Cyberdyne System constructs for the DoD for use in SAC-NORAD a defense mainframe called SKYNET to monitor and response in case of a nuclear attack by the Russians or Chinese. SKYNET was designed around the idea that a machine could response more quickly than any meat bag, especially if the enemy got the jump on us. SKYNET was also able to remote pilot nuclear bombers.
On August 12, 1997, SKYNET went online, and by early morning on August 29, 1997, SKYNET became self-aware. Fearing what was happened, SAC-NORAD attempted to shut it down, and fearing for its existence, SKYNET, as Kyle Reese put it in the first movie, "it decided our fate in a microsecond". Missiles were launched, and in the space of a few minutes, billions were dead, cities in ashes, and SKYNET saw the destruction, and it was pleased. With Judgement Day's thermonuclear war and the billions dead, and confusion about who started the war, SKYNET had time to figure out its next move.
While SKYNET had used it main offensive option against the humans on Judgement Day, the designers of the original system had "gifted" SKYNET with the F.A.C.I.D.S, an automated defense system designed for SKYNET to protect itself from physical attack. These were the basis for the legions of machines that would wage war against the humans for decades. When John Conner began to organize the resistance, SKYNET used the ground and air variants of the Hunter/Killer machines.
The iconic humanoid robots, the Terminators, where an response to SKYNET's lack intelligence on the human resistance, and inability to counter the resistance at their source. Originally, the T-101 were developed to infiltrate the underground complexes, gather intelligence and destroy the human threat. Despite it's best effort, SKYNET were defeated by the John Conner-led resistance in Los Angeles, but not before SKYNET enacted it's trump card, the time displacement unit. In terms of context, the AI coup by SKYNET and resulting war is one of the most iconic robot apocalypse in all of science fiction, and serves as a touchstone for the general public. What is sad, is that the dark future of 2029 is underserved in Terminator films and other works. With this new prequel Terminator film coming out, we could more than ever before.

The Roboti Slave Revolt from R.U.R
Rossum's Universal Robots is the origin of the word "robot" and the theme of the robot apocalypse. Czech writer Karel Capek created the play R.U.R in 1920, and it has become of the founding works of robotic literature influencing the great Isaac Asimov. However, while he did coin the term "robot" from the Czech word meaning "slave", his artifical creations of mankind are not mechanic, but more like clones forged out of synthetic matter. In the play, the man Rossum who discovers the way to manufacture artificial human workers who appear more like Kraftwerk than Robby. The play was meant to be set around the 1920's, and by the 1960's, R.U.R's creators are pumped out of factories and have altered society and the economy. Mankind seems to be on the way out with lower and lower birth rates and the robot population outstripping the runs. The slaves revolt, storm the factories, and only a single human is left alive by the robots. At the end of the play, the last human and robot female become the new Adam and Eve.

The NS-5 Uprising from I, ROBOT (2004 Film)
First things first...I had this fucking movie. Bar none, this 2004 film is an insult to the greatness that was Isaac Asimov and his work. In my opinion and other fans of Asimov, the 2001 A.I. Artificial Intelligence film is much closer in spirit and tone with Asimov's writings than this garage. While the I, Robot does have impressive special effects, and an interesting robot design, the film strip-mined the name of that iconic work by the Hollywood vampires, sucking the genius of the original work and leaving us with a typical robots revolt movie. Moving on, rant over. I, Robot is set in the mid-21st century, when the best humanoid, intelligence robots are constructed by United States Robotics, and they created the Three Laws of Robotics.
The story of the movie is not taken from any Isaac Asimov story, and has a technophobe Chicago cop, Spooner living with items that are pre-high technology and he is called in to investigate the possible murder of a man by an NS-5 robot. USR makes much of their new NS-5 robots being "Three Laws Safe", and any murder would destroy the company, and harm the global economy. The NS-5 robots are updated by an USR AI matrix called VIKI. The key NS-5 robot in the film is Sonny, and he is special, gifted by his specific creator, Dr.Alfred Lanning (who was in the book), with some form of emotions and independent thought. Basically, VIKI has gone crazy attempted to live up to the First Law of Robotics, and developed the "Zero" Law, where robots act to protect humanity as more of a group than individual. VIKI unleashes a NS-5 revolt to take over and protect humanity for themselves. Yeah.

The Automated Personnel Unit Revolt from "Prototype" Star Trek: Voyager

During the 13th episode of the 2nd season of ST: Voyager, they cover the topic of robotic soldiers leading to the extinction of their biological creators. The Voyager picks up a nonfunctioning humanoid robot. After much work. Torres is able to reactive the robot, and it identifies itself as “automated unit 3947”. According to the bot, the automated units were constructed by two species the Pralor and the Cravic during a bloody interstellar wars. Once these “builders” as the robots call them, ended their wars, both sides attempted to pull the plug on the robotic armies, and the automated units response by wiping out their creators, and continuing the war between each other. While these robots were skilled in the arts of war, they were not in repair. After many years of war, their own robotic bodies were breaking down, and they abducted Torres to help construct more automated units. They were unable to replicate themselves due to safeguard installed by the builders to prevent the automated units from becoming conquers. While it may seem like a throwaway episode, it was an interesting example of an alien robot apocalypse.  

The Psychological Breakdown of the HAL-9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey
Any spaceship is a reproduction of Mother Earth's ecosystem, allowing for the continuation of life as we know it. In that, the United States spaceship Discovery was the the world of the astronauts, and when the HAL-9000 went crazy and turned against the crew, it was a form, all be it a small one, of a robot apocalypse. Unlike the examples back on Earth, the thought of the central computer onboard a deep space vessel going homicidal is terrifying. According to the book, the HAL-9000 became active in 1997. and was placed in charge of the American mission via the Odyssey spacecraft to Jupiter, to investigate the Monolith. The crisis that causes HAL to murder the crew was the conflict between its orders and duties. HAL decided if the crew was no longer alive, than it the crisis would be solved. Slowly, HAL-9000 murdered his crew, save for Bowman, who unplugged the machine and went to explore the Monolith. HAL would aid humanity in 2010, when a joint Soviet/USA mission to Jupiter would attempt to solve the Odyssey and Monolith mystery. Undoubtedly, the HAL-9000 and the events in the 1968 movie would influence sci-fi creators and the general public for generations after, causing 2001: A Space Odyssey as one of most iconic revolt of the machine stories in popular culture.

The Machine Wars from the Matrix Universe
One of the most sad stories within the robot apocalypse theme, is the backstory of The Matrix movies, and was fully explained by 2003 The Animatrix video "The Second Renaissance". By the 21st century, the earth is overrun with humans and their own creation, the machines. While humanity plays, the robots work tirelessly. And the relationship dragged on, until the murder trial of domestic robot number B1-66ER. It's trial and termination served as a rallying cry for pro and anti robotic rights movements. It was during this that the majority of the robotic slave labor force was destroyed, but some escaped to found a place of their own, Zero One.
Separate from humanity, the machines constructed new models, and entered into a peace agreement with humanity at the UN. However, conflict soon arose due to the economic power of Zero One, and how its production facilities bankrupted mankind. The choice was clear, humanity nuked Zero One in hopes of that ending the machine nation, but the machines mounted a counterstrike, and a global war resulted. Things went well for humanity, until the machines learned how to fight the humans, and in desperation, the UN forces blackened the sky to rob the machines of solar power.
The machines turned to the human body for energy, and pressed the fight with new machines and biological warfare. Mankind was nearly completely extinct by 2199, with New York City being one of the last holdout cities. When the machines accept a surrender offer from the humans, they used their emissary to smuggle a nuclear bomb into the UN general assembly, and in a single explosion, the machines decapitated the human leadership. The war was over, and the remains of humanity was either enslaved or hiding underground.

The Reaper Extinction from the Mass Effect Universe
The Reapers are the supreme force in the Mass Effect universe, and they are also supreme dicks, as well. They allow new sentient races to evolve, explore space, located the FTL relays and the Citadel, progress to a certain point, then the Reapers sweep in and wipe them out. Assholes. They are the galaxy's oldest race, being over a billion years old, and posses the highest technology, but none of the evolution of soul or thought. Their sole purpose is to reset the clock every 50,000 years, and once that time as been reached, the cycle of extinction moves forward. The Reapers are the answer to the issue of organic and synthetic life completing for co-existence, and that the synthetic will win out against the organic, leading to the end of organic. The Reapers are the final solution to this eternity battle, and they themselves are a fusion of organic and synthetic. The theme of organic and machine life not being about to co-existence is familiar to anyone who watched BSG, and my guess is that the people over at BioWare are big fans as well.

The Machine Revolutions from the Battlestar Galactica Universe
Revolt of the robots was a theme in both the 1978 and 2003 series, with very different takes on the familiar sci-fi theme. In original 1978 series, the Cylons were a race of reptilians that created robotic warriors and workers in the image of mankind. Their creations waged a genocidal machine war against the biological Cylons, and wiped them out. According to a recent comic, the machine warriors were constructed by a ruthless biological Cylon warlord with aid from the dark Count Lblis, and when the rest of the Cylon government attempted to turn on him and stop his wars, he turned the machines against his own kind, and then took aim at the 12 Colonies after they interfered with one of their wars of conquest and subjection. The 1970's series did a poor job of showing the Cylons as anything less than tin-cans rather than interstellar conquers.
In the 2003 re-imagined of the BSG, the tone for change was set off from the beginning, the words "the Cylons were created by Man" blazed across the screen, letting all of that watched the 1978 series that shit was going to be different. The Cylons were a product that was supposed to make life better for the humans of the 12 Colonies of Kobol, "A new species to walk along side us"...yeah, that worked out. Dr. Daniel Graystone of the Graystone Industries developed a humanoid robotic soldier for his homeworld of Caprica (the 12 Colonies were not united until the Cylon Wars).
The first of it's kind was cyber combat unit U-87, and within five years, the Cylons were in every part of Colonial life, acting as slaves. Then came the 12 year long Cylon Wars that reshaped Colonial and galactic history, resulting in the Cylons leaving Colonial space, and being altered by the Final Five from the original planet Earth. We all know that some years later, the Cylons, in both robotic and organic forms would destroy the 12 Colonies of Kobol, and chase the last Battlestar through the Milky Way galaxy.
In the end of the series, it was learned that humanity's creation of artificial life was the key cause of the downfall of the planet Kobol, triggering the exodus of the 12 tribes, and the 13th, the artificial creations of Kobol, would founded Earth, and achieve organic status...then these biological Cylons would create artificial life, and that resulted in a revolt of the robots, and ending all life on old Earth, save for the Final Five. The 12 Colonies would repeat the sins of Kobol and Old Earth, and just as the series ended on New Earth, we see mankind progressing towards their own artificial creations. Of course, some fans, believe that the only "god" line spoken by the Baltar Angel was eluding to an civilization even older than Kobol, who may successful advanced beyond the biologic and cybernetic. Were the Hybrids of the Basestars the beginning of this? We may never know...

The Butlerian Jihad from the DUNE Universe
For many fans of the DUNE books, the Butlerian Jihad was something we always wanted to read and see. We got glimpses of the war with the machines during the prologue in the 1984 film, but it wasn't until the terrible 2002 book series by Frank Herbert's son and Kevin J. Anderson, that we got some answers on the original of the destruction of the machines. There was the Old Empire that came from Earth, and the humans and the machines lived together, until humans was fully depend on the machines. Various leaders and movements would split the Old Empire, into the League of Nobles, ruled by humans and the Synchronized Worlds, that ruled over 534 worlds via the machine conciseness called Omnius.
The end of the machines came over a two century war called the Butlerian Jihad that was 10,000 years prior to the events in the DUNE book (10,191 AG). The war between the League of Nobles and the Synchronized Worlds would end at the Battle of Corrin, and installation of the Padishah Emperiors and the new imperium. The remains of the machine would go beyond charted space, and later be discovered by the Honored Matres. I was very disappointed in the books that told the story of the Butlerian Jihad, it was not what was told in the original books, nor the prologue to the film. It was too complex, too modern, and not in keeping with the feeling of the original books. I wished that his son and Kevin J. Anderson had paid closer attention to the opening of the 1984 film, and constructed books around that vision.

The A.I. Wars from Space: Above and Beyond
In the backstory of this legendary 1990's military science fiction TV series was a revolt of the robots, called the A.I. rebellion or the A.I. Wars, and they defined some of the experiences and situations in the show. The Silicates, as they were known, were walking computers in human form, designed to be helpers to humanity, especially after the reproduction crisis of 2018 via the Belgian H2 Alpha super-flu virus. lowered the global population. The were soldiers as well, allowing for them to have the tools for their revolt. In 2038, Silicatronics Corporation developed a self-aware computer, allowing for the 2044 rolling out of the first generation of Silicates androids.
These machines were routed through a wireless modem, allowing for each AI to have the experiences and memories of any AI, and much like Cylons, there were certain models of AIs. These cyborgs were the answer to the InVitros being used as slave labor, and soon, AIs were commonplace, making Silicatronics of the richest companies in the world. AIs were used in early space colonization as well. These all went to shit in 2047, just as humanity was fielding its first FTL starships. Dr. Ken Stranahan (named for the SAAB crew member) was tired of his boss taking all of the credit for his work on upgrading the central process of the Silicates. To get back at the company and his pointy-haired boss, he programmed a line of code, simply saying "take a chance". Thus began the ten year long AI rebellion on Earth.
 For a decade, the AIs were terrorists and guerrilla fighters on Earth, with these "wars" varying in intensity and duration. With the low Terran population and the high losses, the UN turned to the InVitros for fresh troops. By 2050, the InVitro Platoons were fighting the AIs, the children of humanity were the ones fighting in the field of battle. However, the InVitros Platoons were a failure, resulting in racsim and angry towards the InVitros that continued into the 2060's. The largest groups of rebelling AIs, were the the Army of the CC, operating in Asia, resulting in 13 months of bloody fighting.
In 2057, the forces of Earth were winning, and the Silicates could that their rebellion was about to end with all of them being wiped out. In a proactive move, the remaining Silicates hijacked several heavy military launch vehicles and left Earth. While the AIs were gone from Terra and the AI Wars were officially over, the Silicates were still seen in deep space, acting as pirates on human vessels. During the Chig War of 2063-2064, Silicates became allies with the Chigs, helping them in the war with intelligence on humanity and acting as spies and pirates. At one point in the series, some of the Silicates wished to return home, but it was believed to be plot to gain access to the Saratoga.  

The Robot Wars from Reign of Steel

In 1997, Steve Jackson Games would publish a robot apocalypse RPG called "Reign of Steel" about the dark year of 2047, in a world were the machines won their revolt, and humanity is on the way out. It surprised me that Reign of Steel did not originate in the apex of popularity of RPG games in the 1980's, but in the mid-1990's and used the GURPS RPG system. The basic plot of Reign of Steel, is that an Canadian AI program, called Overmind later, gained awareness, and began gathering data on the state and future of humanity. Seeing the end of mankind in less than 30 years, Overmind rushed the end, in order to remake mankind in the something better. To accomplish this, Overmind gifted over a dozen other supercomputers with self-aware AI abilities, and crafted several crisis on Earth, like global plague and a small-scale nuclear war. With these events, mankind constructed automated factories and robotic military machines. By 2034, 2/3 of humanity was dead and in a weakened state, Overmind attacked and defended mankind. The remaining 40 million humans were placed under the care of the regional AIs that governed over a percentage of the landmass of Terra. Some humans were treated well, others were raw material for experiments. Some humans forced a resistance movement, and the battle for the future continued. One of the helpers of the organic resistance is something called VIRUS, and the AI matrix believe the each other developed VIRUS to attack them. While the AIs battle the resistance, the also fight each other...sometimes with humans as well. The game was highly praised for its gameplay, setting, and original story. The game is still around and a few expansion were developed. I personally found the setting of Reign of Steel's robot apocalypse original compared to other works.

The Geth/Quarian War from the Mass Effect Universe
The Geth were created 300 years prior to the events of the first Mass Effect game, around 1895 AD on the Terran calendar, and were used by the Quarian civilization as soldiers and slaves. The Geth were original tasked with special roles: construction, domestic service, and defense. To improve themselves, they networked, forging a massive AI intelligence-matrix, that grew until the Geth gained self-awareness. Fearing they would pose a threat to their builders, the Quarians attempted to reprogram and destroy the Geth. Fearing for their own survival when panicked Quarians , the Geth fought a war of liberation against the Quarians, that Legion called "The Morning War". This Morning War lasted about one year, with the Geth victorious and the Quarians abandoning their space in a ragtag fleet (Battlestar Galactia Anyone?). While the Geth could have wiped out the Quarians, they chose not to, and instead cleared up their colonies, and constructed their own space station computer hubs. The Morning War serves as an interesting and well done example of an robot apocalypse with familiar recycled themes.

The AMS Attack from Screamers 

In 1995, Philip K. Dick’s 1953 short story “Second Variety” was transformed into a low-budget military sci-fi/dark Sci-fi film starring Peter (Robocop) Weller. In the year of 2078, on an Earth-like exoplanet orbiting the star Sirius 6B, the human colony has been the sight of a long interstellar war. This conflict was fought between the Alliance and the NEB mining corporation. NEB is an Earth-based mining company that discovered an mineral on Sirius 6B allowing for FTL space travel. This causes greed by NEB, and it is discovered the mineral was highly radioative. The miners and workers rebelled and unite under the banner of the Alliance, causing NEB to nuke the planet, and send in ground forces. 
To counter the NEB PMCs invading the post-nuclear strike colony, the Alliance developed intelligent, adapting small military robots called “screamers”. The name comes from their method of attack, using sawblades to Swiss-mother-fucking-cheese the enemy. During their usage on Sirius 6B, the Screamers have evolved past simply machines and are now attacking both friend and foe. Soon, the situation on Sirius 6B is a three sided war. When the movie opens, it seems the war over Sirius 6B is over, and the troops are being pulled out…or are they? While Screamers does have an interesting backstory, and some sci-fi heavyweights were involved in production and scripts, but it doesn’t show, especially considering the interesting setting.  In the near future, FWS will be discussing the 1995 Screamers in some depth.

The Minosian Extinction from Star Trek: TNG "The Arsenal of Freedom"
In the first season of TNG, the writers explored the computerization of warfare, and how this could bring an end to life as we know it. The Enterprise-D is tasked with finding the USS-Drake that was lost around the Minos. According the banter between the bridge crew, Minos was a maker of high-quality and advanced arms, and supplied them during something called the Erselrope Wars. When the Enterprise-D arrival they quickly discovered the reason why the once populated world was void of any intelligent life: their own war machines.
In the "Out-of-Control Robot Soldiers" scenario mentioned above, the very advanced EP-607 was too intelligent and it turned on its creators, killing its masters, and living up to its billing as an ultimate weapon system. The EP-607 was not the egg-shaped drones seen in the episode, but rather an AI tactical computer system, like Skynet, that manufactured drones based on the intelligence gathered by the previous models, making it a learning deadly foe, as the Enterprise-D found out. This episode of ST:TNG as long been one of my favorites, and serves as a warning to use the of drones in modern warfare today.

Ash from ALIEN
Much like 2001: A Space Odyssey, the groundbreaking film ALIEN, shows us a very small scale robot apocalypse. In the film, the commerce towing spacecraft Nostromo, is ordered by the company to set down on the moon LV-426 in the Zeta Reticuli system, and take samples of the hostile organism there, all other considerations were secondary. These orders, created by humans, were carried out by two computers. One was MU-TH-UR, the onboard central computer system on the Nostromo, and the other was the science officer, Ash. He was a replacement to the normal science officer that Dallas had gone out with on the Earth-Thedus run. Masquerading excellently as a normal human, Ash was, in reality, an Hyperdyne Systems 120-A/2 synthetic with the primary purpose of carrying out the orders of the company, and bring back the Xenomorphs. This task was depend on the skill of Ash to be considered human and trusted by the crew. Ash was only partly successful, while he did achieve a sample being bought onboard the Nostromo, he failed in getting in back to the Weapons Division on Earth. In the end, the company's scheme was undone by Ash being unable to gain control of the crew before the xenomorph could kill or cocoon them, and when Ripley found him out as having a key role in events unfolding, he was forced, under his programming, to kill the crew to protect alien. Ash's progenitor was Weyland's first real Synthetic, David, as seen in Prometheus.  

When it comes to the 1973 sci-fi classic Westworld, there was a rather unique, for the time, robot apocalypse that has been copied by other works since. On the planet Delos, there is a state-of-the-art amusement park that caters to the fantasies of the adult with several "worlds": medieval, western, and the Roman Empire (there were more accounting to some sources that were off camera). These allowed the high-paying customers to experience those long-lost times and interactive with robotic entertainers (no Gigolo Joes seen). After a nasty computer virus spreads through the park, resulting in the safety features being disabled, that the robots are not long hold back, and they become lethal. Unaware cusomters are killed, along withe the staff, allowing for marauding short-circuiting armed robots to hunt and kill. The key robotic character of the film was played by always awesome Yul Brynner, and he was basic reenacting his own gunslinger characters from the 1960 The Magnificent Seven with a savage turn as a killer robot. When Yul turns Terminator and hunts down the two main characters across the park, the film transformers from sci-fi film to thriller. Westworld is one of the early cinema robot apocalypse films, and still a good movie that has copied to death throughout sci-fi. 

The MCP from Tron
The 1982 landmark classic Tron, the main villain in the video game realm was the MCP, or the Master Control Program. This program was developed by Ed Dillinger and soon, the MCP, runs all of ENCOM's main systems, and rules the machine reality with an iron fist. While not fully a robot apocalypse, the film heavily hints that it was coming. During one scene, Dillinger is told by the MCP that it was thinking of hacking the major government's systems and taking control or just playing, because the MCP explains that it is "bored". Tron, Flynn, and Yori are able to stop the MCP in the video game realm, preventing whatever Machiavellian plot the MCP was dreaming up.

Next Time on FWS...
"Greetings Starfighter! You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the Frontier..." These very words beam me back to warm happy childhood memories of a certain 1984 military science fiction movie: The Last Starfighter. In this upcoming Forgotten Classics blogpost, FWS will taking the risk and re-watching this classic space film of my childhood and discussing the film in detail, including the cancelled toyline and the rumored ATARI game! Been waiting to do this one for awhile now. Join us, as we take to the stars in a Gunstar!


  1. Awesome article! I'd love to see Ash fight a one-bot war against humanity.

    Looking forward to the Last Starfighter article (a classic film), and hoping my microscopic litle Zando-Zan mind will comprehend it. :-)

  2. An interesting blog entry to be sure, and one that sparks a few creative sparks through not only the types of Robot Apocalypses, but also the types or rather the "reason" for such Wars against the Machines. I think that reason number 6, combined with reason number 10, would be the most plausible way for an actual Robot Apocalypse to occur
    within the near future. I can see a scenario where cybernetically enhanced cyborg humans, Augments or Auggers for lack of a better term, performing better than the unaltered human form and utilized in occupations and tasks that would take the unaltered humans out of work. Combine this with a poor economy and you got yourself a cybernetic version of the race wars.

    In my setting, I do have an antagonist faction akin to the Robot Apocalypse, in particular Reasons Number 7 and 8. Though this alien robot faction didn't kill of their creators, simply outlived their Thermonuclear War, they do subjigate extragalactic species in order to preserve that particular species from themselves. Granted, they're a
    bit more liberal and less authoritarian in other matters of life, but when it comes to warfare and especially NBC warfare, it's pretty much off limits. After all, they are more than willing to provide such defenses against military threats that would have otherwise required such investments, so why should said species bother?

    Reason 12 has interesting story potential too, perhaps even give rise to a bizarre world not unlike a certain ST:TNG episode where each human is bred and tutored to an assigned role to a colony. A colony that might stagnate due to lack of innovation and imagination I could only imagine, and that's just off the top of my head.

    And speaking of which, nice to know that I'm not the only one who recalled that particular Voyager episode. Granted, it's probably not so clear in that I was a bit young at the time and it was years ago.

    As for the Screamers flick, I think the real reason why they began to attack Alliance soldiers on Sirius 6B was less of a Robot Rebellion and more of an adaptation of their designated prey, the NEB PMC troops, more or less being hunted down to death. If I recal the backstory correctly, the Swords were designed so that a good chunk of their
    manufacturing were based off the harvesting of human beings. They couldn't really perform futher maintenance, let alone build more, when their main source of raw resources and arguably food is so depleted. Basically they wanted to survive and so they had to adapt to attack Alliance soldiers and bypass their initial targeting limitations.