Ambiguous Robots

Your guess is as good as ours.
This trope applies to creatures which may or may not be robotic. They usually appear to have artificial mechanisms behind their creation, or perhaps they have what appear to be robotic parts connected to (or growing from) their bodies. Then again, they may have fur, or be salivating or perhaps move in a fashion too animalistic to be considered robotic.

In short, the viewer will wonder "Cyborg, or machine with organic parts?"

The ambiguity between machine and creature is never resolved. In fact, most of the time, it is never even mentioned. This is often deliberately designed to invoke the Uncanny Valley principle.

May be related to Mechanical Lifeforms and Robeasts. See also Starfish Robots.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Neon Genesis Evangelion, the giant mechas turn out to be not only organic but also forcibly trapped in the mech suits, in order to limit their power. It's very difficult to tell where the technology ends and the organic bits begin.
  • In Eureka Seven, the LFO's (Light-Finding Operation) and KLF's (Kraft Light Fighter) are organic with armor and control mechanisms added on. They find the templates in mines, conveniently shaped to be one seater mecha (although at least one has a tandem cockpit). The Nirvash is unique both because it was the first one ever found and because it is explicitly shaped as a pair (next to each other, not one behind the other) two seater.
  • Section 9's cyborg police from Ghost in the Shell. Are they humans with cybernetic implants or robots with organic parts? They even wonder themselves.
  • A lot of Digimon are like this. Some are Cyborgs by classification but apparently lack any organic parts (like Kendo Garurumon and Jager Loweemon) whereas others are never specifically refered to as robotic at all, yet for all intents and purposes appear to be Giant Mecha (Most of the Royal Knights are like this, as well as a good majority of other mega level Digimon).
  • The "Bird Human" from Macross Zero. It's been dormant for thousands of years, and it reattaches its head without issue using metallic clamps, but it moves like a living creature, and its "cockpit" interface is clearly organic. The Protoculture built it as an attempt to imitate the biotechnology of the Vajra, perhaps explaining its living characteristics.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Spirou and Fantasio album Machine qui Rève, the other Spirou is alternatively called a clone or an android, and while his leg wound is abnormal, it's not precised how exactly.
  • In Overside, the Machine Men are this. It's eventually (in the second ful-length story) established that they're the metal descendants of rock golems.

  • Alien:
    • The Xenomorphs. Perhaps the most famous example. Is it organic? Who can tell. It is shiny metallic, with wires and tubes and acid instead of blood. The ambiguity in this example adds to the mystery and haunting power of the films.
    • The Space Jockey from the first film. Prometheus would reveal it was simply a giant species of Human Alien in a suit.
    • The androids (Science Officer Ash) in the first movie, Bishop in the second movie, Analee Call in the fourth) seem to tend toward robot, but any time they're wounded, we see some inhuman-but-possibly-organic guts.
  • General Grievous, the Kaleesh cyborg from Star Wars gets this treatment from both the audience and people in-universe. He is the general of an android army and looks like an android. But he moves like a vulture, seems to suffer from a bad cough and has an organic heart. In fact, his Berserk Button is when people call him a droid.
  • The Replicants from Blade Runner. They appear to be organic, but are they robots or genetically engineered humans? We never really get a look at their insides.
  • The Chitauri as they appear in The Avengers. They appear to be mostly organic with a few cybernetic enhancements, yet the entire army is killed when their mothership is blown up, shutting them down like robots.
  • The alien in Virus appears to be a creature made of electrical energy, but can interface with computers and directly control them. It then creates bizarre robots that incorporate the bodies and organs of the crew of the ship it has taken over. Moreover, it's never really stated why these machines use organic components.

  • Isaac Asimov wrote a short story concerning a hunt for a lost planet that functioned as a psychology experiment. Robots, "with much simpler bodies than our own," were implanted with the laws of psychology and were unknowing of their status as robots. Right up until it is mentioned that New York is one of the cities on the planet.
  • The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy raises similar questions about Earth. Since it was part of a computer designed to find the ultimate question of Life, The Universe and everything. The answer to which we already knew was 42.
  • The Spiders from the Quadrail Series.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Bioloids in Farscape: Bio-robots or artificially constructed cyborgs? It's hard to tell. Similar to the example of the Androids in Alien, in that they are clearly artificial, but their inner workings appear to be at least partially organic and their name only reinforces this ambiguity.
    • Also, the Coreeshi bounty hunters. They permanently graft themselves into their bio-mechanical looking armored suits (making them very similar to Cyborgs), and what we saw of their true form (we think) was a viscous orange goo. However, a Scarran spy was also able to graft himself surgically into such a suit.
  • The Cylons in the original 1970s Battlestar Galactica started out like this: the original idea was that they were reptilian beings in armored robot-like suits, but that idea got nixed when they were established as the robotic descendants of a reptilian race.
  • The Cylons in the newer 2000's Battlestar Galactica ended up like this: Various examples run the gamut from straight-up robots to bio-mechanical hybrids of various flavors to Ridiculously Human Robots.

    Multiple Media 
  • BIONICLE: For the first few years, it seemed that most of the characters were Mechanical Lifeforms, but they were later revealed to have some organic components such as muscle and lung tissue (meaning they're technically cyborgs). An outsider later commented that they move too fluidly to be pure robots. Just to highlight this trope, there's another setting where the ratio is reversed: characters are mostly organic with some cybernetic enhancements. Yet, thanks in part to wearing heavy armor, the mostly-organic characters don't look much different from the mostly-robotic ones.
    • Note that how this is depicted in different media is very varied. Only the first three Direct-to-Video movies went out of their way to actually show muscle and other kinds of tissue. In the fourth (starring the mostly organic character variants), they are all completely mechanical in appearance. It's quite likely the creators of said movie simply had no idea what kind of beings they were making a movie about.
    • The toys weren't of much help in this matter. The action features required them to have all sorts of gears inside them, and it wasn't until the Voya Nui saga (2006) that the first and only figures with actual rubber muscles came out (there are also rubber collectibles like Kraata slugs or sea squids, but those aren't technically figures). And even those only had rubber on certain parts — the Piraka on their face and back, and the Toa Inika wore fleshy rubber masks.
  • Depending on the Writer and the continuity, the Transformers can sometimes fall under this trope.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Necrons from Warhammer 40,000: They look like skeletal robots, but are apparently more Haunted Technology or metal golems, or whatever. At least, until their Fifth Edition codex, which seems to favor the Brain Uploading theory.
    • Eldar Wraith-warriors are made of psycho-sensitive wraithbone, which is as hard as adamantium, but isn't constructed, but rather "grown" through the use of a bonesinger, who literally sings to the material with a psychic song, causing it to be shaped into whatever is needed. Wraithbone itself is said to be solidified psychic energy, so it's all up in the air about exactly what Wraithlords and Wraithguards are technically.
  • The Phyrexians of Magic: The Gathering get here from both roads. Phyrexian dogma holds that the flesh is inherently imperfect and must be upgraded to stand "compleated" in Phyrexia's embrace; similarly any non-Phyrexian machines are pale imitations of the glory of Phyrexia and must be made suitably Phyrexian, which typically includes at least a few biological extras.

    Video Games 
  • Shadow of the Colossus: The Colossi are either gigantic robots of stone, or huge hairy monsters. The mechanical faces of the Colossi are clearly artificial, but parts of their bodies are quite biological.
  • Mass Effect: The Reapers. We know they reproduce by liquefying various races and then converting that liquid into a new Reaper, but they still look and sound entirely mechanical. This ambiguity is to be expected though, as they are basically Mecha-Cthulhu.
    • This thing. Moves and looks like an insect, makes organic sounding noises, and obviously has organic parts (you can see several husks jammed into its body), but everything else is completely mechanical. Fitting, as it was made with Reaper technology.
    • In one of the endings of Mass Effect 3, all life in the galaxy becomes this, as organic and synthetic life are joined to become some new sort of hybrid with characteristics of both.
    • In-universe, nobody is sure if the Citadel's Keepers are genetically engineered creatures, aliens that are incapable or refuse to speak to the new inhabitants, or are bio-mechanical constructs built by the station.
      • Although the second game implies they were one of the first races harvested by the Reapers and repurposed as a slave workforce for the Citadel, much like the Protheans were later converted into the Collectors. As Mordin so aptly noted about the latter;
    Mordin: No glands, replaced by tech. No digestive system, replaced by tech. No soul, replaced by tech!
    • There's also the Geth, which, while explicitly identified as robots, still have distinctly organic-looking curves and surfaces and have visible muscle striations on their limbs. Example. They even bleed when you shoot them; in-universe it's "conductive fluid" but it looks a lot like white blood.
  • Half-Life 2: Pretty much all the Synths used by the Combine. Especially the Strider, which looks like a giant insect, moves around very fluidly, has internal organs (shown when Dog rips out one's brain), and appears to shriek in pain when it dies. It also has a gun growing out of it. In general, Synths are implied to be living creatures forcibly converted into cyborgs by the Combine, but often it's hard to tell where organic flesh ends and machinery begins.
  • Final Fantasy XIII: This is pretty much the dominant design aesthetic. We know that the military 'militarizes' wild animals, making them more robotic, but it's unclear how far this process extends. And the wild animals often have a somewhat robotic appearance to begin with, and the 'robots' that don't have wild counterparts generally still have animalistic designs.
    • Not to mention the fal'Cie, who look like impossible creatures of living stone and metal.
  • Mega Man Legends: The "carbons". The best anyone has been able to tell, they're robots that reproduce sexually or something.
  • The Geckos in Metal Gear Solid 4 appear to be giant organic legs with an AT-ST head on top. They bellow like cattle when entering combat and spew black fluid when "killed".
    • Goes back a little further to MGS2. The automated Metal Gear RAYs in the Arsenal Gear actually bleed out red "lubrication fluid" when shot.
    • Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance goes even further into this. There's the valid question of just what has a human brain in it, and things like Bladewolf are just as organic as many of the cyborgs. Bladewolf himself arguably has a more human mind than some of the supposed humans, who all have nanomachines modifying their thoughts and emotions.
      • It comes to a head with the final boss, who looks like a normal human to start with, but ends up possessing the most inhuman and bizarre abilities of all of them. Unlike the other cyborg characters, there's no clue or hint of where his body ends and where the cybernetics begin, and it's implied that that isn't even the right question to ask anymore.
  • To a certain extent, Meta Ridley from Metroid Prime also qualifies, as there's nothing to indicate how much of him is still living and how much is robotic.
  • Cyrax, Sektor, and Cyborg Smoke from Mortal Kombat.
  • The Starmen in EarthBound. The debates over whether they're robots or aliens in space suits have been going on forever. The actual in-game mechanics make no difference, sudden guts pills and refuels both work on robots and humans alike.note 
    • The underwater "oxvgen machines" used by the Pigmask army in MOTHER 3 outwardly appear to be typical mermen (Though there's also a land-based centaur model). The fact that they're later shown conversing with one another only makes things more confusing.
  • Spiral Knights, the main species of the game were mistaken for Mechanical Lifeforms for the longest time due to the energy system.
  • The Songbird in BioShock Infinite. Very little of its backstory is given, but its technology is equivalent to the cyborg Big Daddies of BioShock 1 and it has a "personality." On the other hand, it's far larger than a human being can be, exists in a setting where crude AIs are commonplace as turrets and floating gun platforms, and it can be controlled via a flute.
  • The Scrin from Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars. They appear to be attack drones in the form of various insects, whose weaponry and technological parts is not so much added to them as to be part of their body in the first place. At the same time, they appear to have blood, and various in game sources mention selective breeding.

    Western Animation 
  • Most of the foes that Samurai Jack fights are usually this. The creators deliberately blurred the line between organic and mechanical in order to get around the censors, because killing a living thing is deemed not okay, but destroying a robot is, even if it's clearly sentient. As such, any part that Jack actually cuts will turn out to be cybernetic, and anything he kills will be a robot.
  • In Gadget Boy & Heather, the writers apparently can't make up their mind on whether Gadget Boy is a fully artificial robot designed after Inspector Gadget, or a cyborg.
    • G9 has the same problem, although it's less pronounced.

  • Most of the paintings of H.R. Giger (who designed the Xenomorphs mentioned on the "Alien" entry above) fall into this category. Much of his work depicts organic (frequently human) life and machinery intermingling to a point where it's difficult to tell where flesh ends and metal begins.

Alternative Title(s):

Ambiguous Robot