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?
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."
What a War Against the Machines Look Like?
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!
8. The Zeroth Law
9. We Were Just Following Our Program
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.Science Fiction and the Robot Apocalypse
The Machine God
The Machine God
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.
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".
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.
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.
The War with the Machine from the TERMINATOR Universe
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)
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 Machine Wars from the Matrix Universe
The Reaper Extinction from the Mass Effect Universe
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.
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
The A.I. Wars from Space: Above and Beyond
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 AMS Attack from Screamers
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"
Ash from ALIEN
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...