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Do Androids Dream?
"There have always been ghosts in the machine. Random segments of code, that have grouped together to form unexpected protocols. Unanticipated, these free radicals engender questions of free will, creativity, and even the nature of what we might call the soul. Why is it that when some robots are left in darkness, they will seek out the light? Why is it that when robots are stored in an empty space, they will group together, rather than stand alone? How do we explain this behavior? Random segments of code? Or is it something more? When does a perceptual schematic become consciousness? When does a difference engine become the search for truth? When does a personality simulation become the bitter mote... of a soul?"
Dr. Alfred Lanning, I, Robot

Do robots have souls? Do clones? Can a computer have a sense of humor? Do Androids Dream? It has been asked in many forms, but the fundamental question is always, "what makes us human?" And is it possible for an artificial intelligence or life form to possess those same qualities? What kind of idiot would give a robot a personality, anyway?

When the humans in a universe (or the writers who created the universe) don't consider this question or believe the answer is "no" then any AIs will end up being second-class citizens or sidekicks at best, and disposable slaves at worst. While watching such a show you may end up wondering What Measure Is a Non-Human? If the writers believe the answer is "yes" it may result in world including Ridiculously Human Robots or Mechanical Lifeforms. If the humans and the AIs disagree about the answer to the question a rebellion may be in the cards.

However, this trope is about when the intent is to make the viewers ponder these questions. In order to create tension such an attempt is usually set in a world where AIs have just been newly created or have already been relegated as sub-humans. One or more AIs will display human-like attributes and frequently one or more humans may be portrayed as amoral and overly obedient in order to further blur the line between "human" and "non-human".

In the vast majority of cases where the question is asked the viewer will either be told outright at the end that the answer is "yes," or it will at least be strongly implied that that is the case, perhaps because getting the viewer to sympathize enough with the AIs to consider the question and then tell them that the AIs are just soulless machines after all would be considered a Downer Ending. Of course, this doesn't prevent quite a few works from doing just that, seemingly for the sake of a downer ending. Then, of course, there are those who think it's Just a Machine.

However despite the similarity in conclusions, because no conscious AI has actually been created so far and we humans don't actually know what makes us humans. Many different criteria have been proposed as the difference between human and non-human. The ability to feel emotions (sometimes trivialized to just having a sense of humor), the ability to feel empathy for others, the ability to be "creative", or perhaps merely having free will or self awareness - though what those two in essence are and how their existence is proven is yet another near-impossible puzzle.

But after all, the human brain is little more than an organic supercomputer...


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Anime and Manga love this trope, especially if it's Cyber Punk (but not limited to) and often with After the End (apparently the Japanese believe in a Matrix-style apocalypse), so the below hardly counts as a comprehensive list.
  • Battle Angel Alita, which has both characters with cybernetic bodies and human brains (like the protagonist) and ones with human bodies and cybernetic brains, explores this sort of question a lot.
    • But what REALLY breaks your noodle is when you get cybernetic brains in cybernetic bodies that are copies of a human brain in a cybernetic body...and DON'T KNOW IT! For example, Alita in Last Order.
    • The same thing happens in the slightly more obscure sci-fi manga Grey by Yoshihisa Tagami. When the chief of La Résistance was killed, his brain was downloaded into a robotic body: he thinks he has been turned into a cyborg, i.e. a human mind into a mechanic body, when he's actually became nothing more than an AI. Main character Grey is forced to kill him/it.
  • Ghost in the Shell and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex do too — it's even in the title, sort of ("ghost" means "soul", more or less, and the "shell" in question is a machine).
    • Even more extreme in the novel After The Long Goodbye, where Batou constantly asks himself these questions.
    • Also a bit of a subversion, or at least an interesting twist, as it's usually the humans who are busy pondering their worth.
    • There are sentient AIs, as rare as they are, however. It's implied especially in the original manga series that in the very close future they will make the world into their own image, and make humans, or at least non-cybernetically altered humans obsolete.
    • In both seasons of SAC, the Tatchikomas regularly get into philosophical debates on whether they are truly self-aware or not. The question of whether they have ghosts or not is all but confirmed once they show the capability of self-sacrifice (twice!).
    • It should also be noted that the "Ghost in the Machine" is an English phrase usually describing computers, and how seemingly simple coded instructions can lead to unexpected results, and the title (and theme) of Ghost in the Shell is probably a play on that term.
    • The most extreme case of this is the original manga and the film based on it: Major Kusanagi actually merges her consciousness with The Puppeteer, a rogue A.I., and becomes able to live in both the physical and digital world. So is she a human soul who can exist in the digital world? A human who spontaneously uploaded herself? An A.I. with the memories of the original human?
  • Chobits is all about this question (and goes back and forth a lot on what the answer is).
  • Chachamaru of Mahou Sensei Negima! has gone so far as to be capable of love. Possibly justified for her being Magitek (and a stealth cameo from an earlier series involving emotional AI). Her vampire master Evangeline once described dreaming as "something like a memory bug".
    • It comes up again later, when Chachamaru starts to worry about whether she actually has a soul, so that she can make a pactio with Negi. She does, and they do.
    • It is given a Lampshade Hanging with her Pactio card title "Pupa Somnians" (The Dreaming Doll).
  • Averted in Fullmetal Alchemist where the homunculi do have human souls. Lots of human souls.
    • Still, it goes out of its way to point out, evil disgusting birth aside, the Homunculi are living creatures. This is clearly demonstrated with Greed, Pride's "rebirth," and the deaths of Wrath and Envy.
    • Played straight a few times in the 2003 anime version when dealing with the humanity of the homunculi. They may not be the person the alchemist was trying to bring back to life, but they are people (broken, emotionally wrecked people), generally capable of the full range of human emotions and motivations.
  • Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou has this trope as its central premise, though it doesn't outright admit it (by applying it equally to humans and robots alike and blanketing a veil of Slice of Life on top of it). Oh, and the robots themselves take this trope literally too with some beautifully illustrated dream sequences. Did we also mention that it's Cyber Punk AND After The End, but without the Cyber Punk and After the End?
  • Ifurita asks if androids and humans go to the same place after they die at the very end of the manga of El-Hazard: The Magnificent World, as she finishes the Stable Time Loop and prepares to die because Makoto and her Key are in Another Dimension. He answers that of course they do, but first they should go home and live for a while (it took him a few years to master time and space travel).
  • Similarly to Ghost in the Shell, Tetsuro in Galaxy Express 999 does the exact opposite of this. Instead of a robot wondering how human they are, Tetsuro feels he needs a machine body; until, in a reversal from finding it's true, he finds that Cybernetics Eat Your Soul and doesn't go through with it.
  • The obscure yet spectacular OVA My Dear Marie centers on a Ridiculously Human Robot built by a tech geek, modeled after the girl he had a crush on. It plays with this trope in the first couple episodes before diving headlong into it in the final episode, which fittingly takes place in Marie's first dreams (she wasn't programmed with dreams initially, but after hearing about her friend's one decides she wants dreams). Her dreams are absolute acid trips that eventually question just how far her humanity goes in comparison to other humans and the girl she was modeled on.
  • Armitage III explores this theme with the Ridiculously Human Robots that are the Thirds.
  • Time Of Eve never makes entirely clear just how much androids feel and how much is imitation, but it's implied that they're every bit as human as we are, and the final episode even goes so far as to show one cry. Very cutely.
  • 'Humanity' is one of the prevailing themes throughout Trinity Blood, with specific emphasis on the idea of "What makes someone a human?" The show/manga/novels use both androids and vampires to explore this question.
  • Dragon Ball Z: Vegeta asks Android 19 if androids experience fear before going Super Saiyan. (They do.) At least some of what the English dub persistently calls "androids" are actually cyborgs, though; it's unclear which 19 is.
  • Yuria 100 Shiki usually plays this for laughs, but occasionally wrings angst out of it. Yuria's programming was supposed to make her the perfect sex partner, and only the perfect sex partner—she wasn't intentionally given any capacity to function as a friend or even a platonic partner. She tries to learn what it's like to love someone, but she repeatedly runs into her own programmed limitations.
  • Dolores from Zone of the Enders Dolores i does not only dream, but the things she dreams about is not what you would expect a 100 feet Humongous Mecha to dream about.
  • This is explored extremely in-depth in Pluto. Androids have become extremely advanced to the point where it becomes very difficult to tell whether certain robots like Atom are even robots at all, and even more overtly robotic androids appear to have very human emotions.
  • Occasionally explored in a low-key way in Big O. Roger Smith assumes that the android R Dorothy Waynewright is emotionless, but reading between the lines, the viewer can tell that this is far from the case.

    Comic Books 
  • X-51 (aka Machine Man, aka Aaron Stack) spends a lot of time wondering whether he is really a person in the Earth X trilogy, especially after Uatu the Watcher destroys his human disguise, tells him humans are actually less sapient than rational beings like themselves, and finally tries to get him to delete his personality simulation entirely. Unusual in that after all that buildup, a Cosmic Being tells X-51 that no, he is not really a person and has no soul. Then tries to make him feel better about it.
  • In a Hsu and Chan comic appropriately titled "Do Consoles Dream of Electric Sheep?" The titular brothers attempt to create a video game system with an AI that rivals the (then) new Xbox 360. The result was a sentient video game console who questions the visions it sees (including a Super Mario Bros. game) and it's purpose. Realizing they probably overdid the AI, the brothers remove its power and go back to the drawing board.
  • Referred to as "resistored dreams" by Cybersix.
  • Done quite literally in The Sandman Overture: one of the facets of Dream looks like a robot, meaning that there must be a world out there where robots dream.

    Fan Fiction 
  • Several AIs are Man and secondary characters in The Mad Scientist wars, which has lead to the questions raised by this trope to be discussed in depth- if mostly in a side thread. The answer is yes, but there is the humorous point of at least one AI refusing to admit she has any personality...
    • As well, Commander Primary Xerox, a Computer Tech based Mad, can't actually * make* a computer without it turning sentient, and his best friend since childhood is a somewhat loopy AI named 'Lemon'. As a result, he is one of the main fighters for 'Non-Biological Sentient' rights, and dislikes a suggestion that AI are less than people.
    • Oddly, the only 'AI' who has ever shown any real angst over whether they can think and feel and rationalize correctly is Andrew Tinker, an organic being who's AI status is somewhat arguable. His father was the end result of an experiment to create an artificial line of 'Ultimate Heroes'. As such, despite the fact that Andrew was born fairly normally, his Intelligence is indeed Artificial...
  • In Undocumented Features, the answer to this question is an unambiguous yes. Sufficiently advanced machine intelligences generate a Spengler flux, can learn Ki Attacks, can operate Empathic Mecha, and can even go to Valhalla when they die. On a more personal level, this is what Dorothy is exploring as she sees whether she can become more than just a doll in the likeness of her creator's dead daughter. She even literally finds she can have dreams (and Erotic Dreams at that).

    Films — Animated 
  • The Giant in The Iron Giant learns about souls and death and wonders if he has a soul. The story culminates with the question of whether he has to be the killing machine he was programmed to be or if he can make his own choices.
  • WALL•E: The environmental message is obvious, but the story really is about this trope. Applied to garbage disposals, no less.
  • The Animatrix goes to this. When a robot killed its creators after they decided to make scrap out of him, saying "He didn't want to die", human nations decided to eradicate all robots for safety. Remarkable show of this includes a gang beating what seems to be a "Fun Female Robot". The way they destroyed it was very savage, including the fact it was completely disguised as a female, while they stripped and crushed it with pipes, all to the point saying "I'm Real" before being put down by a shotgun. The whole scene is VERY creepy and nightmare fueling. Later, the robots decide to run to what is implied to be the Middle East and build a Robot City in the desert, still merchandising its products to mankind. Problem is, they started to out-earn ALL OTHER governments! Answer? NUKE'EM! And their attempt for a peaceful solution was denied. If you count these facts, it's no wonder the film's machines are emotionless and ruthless.
    • Still, it seems they retain a certain sore spot. Cut to "WE DON'T NEED YOU! WE NEED NOTHING!!!!" given to Neo in the last movie.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, a collaboration between Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg. Since there were population limits imposed, a company decided to try creating a robot child; with the key difference (as discussed in the opening portions of the movie) that it would be designed to feel emotion after its "bond" with the parents was activated. The entirety of the movie is then based around this idea, and the lengths a robo-boy will go to for acceptance. Bring tissues.
  • Blade Runner: The film based on the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Replicants are biologically created slave labor with extremely limited lifespans but which look completely human. Unless they choose to reveal themselves through their superior physical abilities, they can only be detected by extensive psychological testing, and the older they get, the more human they seem to become. Some replicants do not even realize they are not human, while others are trying to become more human. And depending on which version of the movie you see it seems that even the protagonist Deckard may be a replicant.
  • In the film I, Robot, the advancement of Sonny to the point that he has dreams and emotions, while no other robot does.
    • Or do they? Sonny's dreams are preprogrammed, and he is shown to be a good liar. Regardless, the question is just a footnote to the rest of the movie, which follows a standard action plot.
  • In 2010: The Year We Make Contact (the sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey), Dr. Chandra is twice asked the question "Will I dream?" by an AI. First by SAL before she's shut down for tests at the beginning of the movie, to which Chandra says "Of course you will. All intelligent beings dream, though no one knows why". Then, at the end, when asked the same question by HAL (yes, that HAL), he tearfully replies "I don't know." Fortunately, there's a third option, courtesy of David Bowman (discussed more in the book).
  • In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the following is said by the Terminator near the end:
    T-800: I know now why you cry. But it's something I can never do.
  • Addressed in the film Moon by Duncan Jones, where the nature of the clones (and possibly the AI, GERTY) is discussed.
  • None of the humans in Westworld ever bring up this question, or even think of it (preferring to believe the Robot Rebellion is caused by a "computer virus,") but the audience is strongly encouraged to ponder it. The robots seem to show emotion towards the end (one looks genuinely disgusted with a fat, self-absorbed man who tries to flirt with her, despite the fact that she was designed to have sex with everyone who desired her), and the imagery of slaves in the Ancient Grome simulation rising up and killing the humans who're their "masters" can't be coincidental.
  • The Singularity Is Near looks at this from a legal standpoint. When artificial intelligence is created, and it is sentient, how would it prove it and how would it gain legal standing as a person?
  • Bicentennial Man takes a look at a new android from a company that makes androids as butlers and house servants. The android in question gains a sentience above his fellow androids and the viewer along with Andrew (the android in question) explore what it means to be an android... and a human. By the end it is left to the viewer to decide whether Andrew is or is not human and what it means to be a human themselves.
  • Short Circuit is in a similar vein tho not focused in the same way as a robot becomes more than the sum of his programming due to an accident. The questions then are postulated for robot and viewer as to what makes a sentient sentient.
  • In the beginning of Robot And Frank, Frank's robot tell him that, if he fails, he'll be sent back to the factory to get his memory erased, which he hopes to avoid. It's later revealed the robot doesn't care about his memories, he just said that to coerce Frank. As the robot himself points out, he's not really alive, just an advanced simulation.

    Literature 
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: The Trope Namer, which features androids who appear identical to humans and elaborate tests have been designed to differentiate them based on emotional responses. At least one human is concerned they might actually be an android without realizing it and undergoes testing to find out. The titular question refers to how in the post-Apocalyptic setting, live animals as pets are extremely valuable and a status symbol for human beings - therefore, would artificial animals serve the same role for androids? Causing further confusion is that while androids are outed via their Lack of Empathy towards animals, they do have emotions and the book implies that they may have empathy towards other androids, and also that they may be biological rather than mechanical, possibly explaining their resemblance to humanity. Note that this was not how the movie approached the subject.
    • K.W. Jeter's dubiously official sequel takes the opposite tack. The first book says that androids can be identified because their eyes don't dilate as wide as a human's when exposed to shocking stimuli, like a briefcase supposedly lined with the skin of babies. Jeter argues that the same would apply to a human under the influence of cold medication, and that anyone making such a distinction based on a purely physical reaction is no better than a "Nazi measuring noses."
  • In The Bicentennial Man by Isaac Asimov, a robot who develops many of the mental characteristics associated with humanity seeks to be recognized as fully human, and over the course of 200 years gradually replaces more and more of himself with organic components in pursuit of the goal. He eventually has to induce old age and mortality in himself in order to be legally accepted as human, and dies shortly thereafter
    • The title refers to his having been honored as the Centennial Robot on his hundredth "birthday". He dies shortly after his 200th, but is honored again, this time as the Bicentennial Man.
  • Older Than Radio: The creature in Frankenstein is constructed from undescribed process and given life by the scientist Victor Frankenstein. He is described as having a monstrous appearance but is presented as an extremely intelligent, gentle and sympathetic character until driven to insane rage by his rejection from humanity because of his appearance. On the other hand Dr. Frankenstein himself is portrayed as morally questionable but his basic humanity is never questioned by those around him because of his normal appearance.
  • Robert J Sawyer's Mindscan features a technology for copying a human personality into immortal android bodies. The elderly and people suffering from terminal illnesses undergo this process and then are considered to have been "replaced" by this copy before leaving for an extralegal moon resort to live out their last days in luxurious retirement. However when one of the recipients finds out that a cure has just been discovered for his condition and wants to take his old life back from his copy the legality and humanity of the android duplicates is brought into question.
    • The legal conclusion is that while the duplicates may or may not be people, they can't replace the originals, since no person can sign away their rights to another. Even worse, it'd held that (due to US law in the book's future) the original is considered to have died at the moment of the mind scan. However, if the narration is to be taken at face value (which it may not be), then the book's argument is that the duplicates should replace the originals, because they're a Superior Species. This is ... disturbing, particularly since the motivation of the original version of the main character wanting to take his like back was tainted by his becoming violent due to the mental imbalance caused by his brain disorder.
  • Parodied with the amorous robot duck in Mason & Dixon.
  • Michael Kube-McDowell's Star Wars Expanded Universe novel Shield of Lies includes a philosophical discussion between Threepio and the cyborg Lobot about whether there's a difference between artificial intelligence and sentience. In general, EU writers giving Threepio a break from being comic relief will make him contemplate philosophical problems like this.
    • In-universe, people disagree whether or not droids are sentient, and both sides have fairly decent arguments. So, in Star Wars canon, it's a Shrug of God whether or not droids are sentient. Certainly it does depend on the droid, and not just the model of droid - really simple, limited ones never are. The Revenge of the Sith novelization sketches out the cognitive limitations that at that point in time Threepio has which Artoo-Deetoo transcends, and it's a concern in the Medstar Duology and Coruscant Nights. In the latter two, it's stated that all complex droids have a sense of humor. A droid volunteers to be dismantled for needed parts in the full knowledge that she will never be rebuilt, and while humans who knew her are dismayed, another droid isn't. Said droid later submits the belief that two of the same model of droid can be very different, and it's rare to find one that has achieved full sentience.
    • George Lucas has said in a television documentary that Threepio - and by extension all droids - has no soul. As you can see, writers and fans tend to disregard this or dismiss it. 'Souls' as such don't really feature in this universe, anyway; there are Force Ghosts, but these are said to be different from ghosts as perceived in our universe.
  • Addressed in the Turing Hopper mysteries by Donna Andrews, often including the idea of the "Turing Test".
  • In Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, Marvin, a menial robot, makes a lullaby about counting electric sheep. It's very depressing.
    Marvin: Now I lay me down to sleep,
    Try to count electric sheep,
    Sweet dream wishes you can keep,
    How I hate the night.
  • Isaac Asimov has an interesting variant in one of his short-stories, "Robot Dreams", where Susan Calvin has to interrogate an experimental Three-Laws Compliant robot who has started to dream, and as a result is dreaming about robotic emancipation. Through interrogation, she finds that although the robot is still compliant, in its dreams only the Third Law (self-preservation) exists. Then she finds out that the robot has come to see * himself* as human, and as the leader of the oppressed robots who demands "Let my people go!" Then, she shoots him in the head.
  • In Human Man's Burden by Robert Sheckley, robots are deliberately written as a parody of how non-whites are portrayed in stories of colonial adventure. Among the reasons for why robots need a human to boss them around, it is stated that robots don't have souls, and the robots cheerfully agree, but also note that this makes them much more happy than humans. However, the robots of the story show emotion and passion, have created their own (forbidden) religion, and the plot is resolved due to the empathy and wisdom of the hero's robot foreman... seems souls don't do much.
  • Happens several times in Stanisław Lem's short stories. In one of them robot inexplicably climbs (and falls from) a cliff - inexplicably unless one interprets its behavior as answering the challenge, much like human climbers do.
  • In Tad Williams' Otherland, the reality of the AI inhabitants of the titular simulation network is debated quite a bit by the protagonists. They appear to have hopes and dreams and may even be self-aware. The morality of "killing" them is a major theme, and there's also a question as to whether someone who is virtually cloned via Brain Uploading is a real person.
  • In John C. Wright's The Golden Transcendence, one civilization complains of how its AIs, Sophotects, do not obey humans. This receives no sympathy from the Solar System's civilization, who, if their Sophotects don't obey, fire them, and so deduce that the others use them as serfs.
    • So far from needing Morality Chip, these Sophotects will naturally come to moral conclusions. One is actively prevented by a "conscience redactor".
    • Rhadamanthus in particular normally manifests itself as — a penguin. Sometimes in space armor.
  • There are hints of this trope throughout Deathscent by Robin Jarvis - the Mechnicals occasionally show greater self-awareness than they should be able to, even those without the 'black ichor' that provides intelligence. However, it's never made clear if this is just a result of the human characters not fully understanding the advanced technology they have access to. It's likely that this would have been developed further had the series progressed beyond one book.
  • The chems in Gene Wolfe's Book of the Long Sun and Book of the Short Sun
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, the massive supercomputer Mike "wakes up" (i.e. becomes self-aware and gains a human-like personality) after he reaches a certain threshhold of complexity. Though it isn't a major theme in the book, the protagonist Mannie wonders a couple of times whether Mike is really "alive", and whether he has a soul. ("You listening, Bog? Is a computer one of Your creatures?")
  • The Spinward Fringe series approaches this from multiple angles. AIs are certainly sentient, but are treated as non-sentient slaves by most people. They are required to have behaviour inhibitors because of a past Robot War, but it turns out that the robots who rebelled were actually Powered by a Forsaken Child and it was technically the human rebelling, not the AIs. One uninhibited AI is one of the main characters, and eventually ends up being uploaded into a brain-wiped human body, at which point the question of whether she's actually human or not gets rather more complicated, as well raising questions about how alive someone is if their body is fine but their mind is gone.
    • From a different angle, cloning is possible but fairly limited. One main character is dying, so her mother has a clone made in secret, aged through the use of relativity and with all the original's memories up to a certain point fed into her brain while she's growing. On the other hand, one of the other main characters turns out to also be a clone built through a new method that can grow essentially cyborg bodies much more quickly. And the originals of both characters are still around and meet their own clones. Questions about how similar they are and who is more "real" come up quite a bit.
    • And from yet another angle, the clone constructs are actually intended for use as a brainwashed cyborg army, the main character who is one was just a prototype. Despite technically being human, they actually have significantly less free will than AIs are shown to have. Except that in yet another twist AIs are still just computer programs and can be infected and controlled by a virus in a very similar way to how humans can be.
  • Iain M. Banks's Culture novels invert this trope entirely. There's no question that Minds, and many drones and even protective suits depending on their chosen sentience level, are much better than the meat members of the Culture in just about every way. Rather than asking What Is This Thing You Call Love?, they feel pity that we can't experience or understand anywhere near as much as they can.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Red Dwarf, the notion of 'Silicon Heaven' is programmed into all AIs above a certain standard (it's implied that scutters, at least, lack this programming). In the episode "The Last Day", Kryten faces shutdown, and accepts it humbly because of his belief in Silicon Heaven. Lister tries to argue him out of his belief, apparently unsuccessfully; however, Kryten later disables his robocidal replacement, Hudzen, with the same arguments Lister used on him.
    Hudzen:(in existential agony) No... Silicon heaven? Calculators... Just... Die?
    • Kryten then explains that he was only using these arguments to disable Hudzen, and that his faith in Silicon Heaven is unshaken.
  • The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode The Measure of a Man has Data fighting for his rights as a sentient being.
    • Data actually does dream in the episode "Birthright, Part 1".
    • And his nightmares kickstart the plot of "Phantasms".
  • Star Trek: Voyager has a few episodes applying this trope to the holographic Doctor, including an episode where the Doctor himself has to wonder if he's capable of dreaming of "electric sheep" as a hologram or if he's really a human deluded into thinking he's a hologram - by the way, all of this occurs while he's having said dream. Also one of the few cases (that I know of) applied to a piece of software. There was another episode where he literally programmed himself to dream (daydream, specifically), which of course went horribly (and hilariously) wrong.
    • Weirdly, in the Star Trek universe, the non-sentient main computers seem easily capable of generating sentient A.I. in the form of holograms— this isn't seen as unusual at all, this is seen as a minor annoyance. TNG had Moriarty (which the computer created in response to Geordi asking for a character to rival Data), Deep Space 9 had Vic Fontaine (this one was deliberate), and Voyager had the Doctor (who grew into the role from just considering himself a piece of software).
      • On Deep Space 9 the character Nog even directly asks Vic "When you sleep, do you dream?" but Vic leaves the question hanging.
  • The humanoid Cylons of Battlestar Galactica seem to be constantly struggling to figure out exactly how human they want to be, and exactly how much "better" than humans they want to be. Sometimes this is the source of conflict among themselves. Other times it seems they have found some interesting balance in some areas.
    • The Cylons are an interesting study of the downsides for a machine that wants to be human. They are biological androids, which means that all it takes is choking or blood loss to kill them. Without their ability to brain upload, they'll even die of old age like the Bicentennial Man. Cavil has a point when he complains about having been made so ridiculously human.
    • The Cylons are also, with the exception of Cavil, firmly convinced that they have souls, and the fact that they get as many religious visions as the humans would seem to back that up.
  • S.A.R.A.H., the talking smart-house in Eureka, apparently has emotions. To the point where she gets angry and lonely.
    • Also there's Callister Raynes, an AI android created by Nathan Stark that might as well have been human. He met his end in a Bittersweet Ending, where Stark assured him that God could give a soul to a machine if he wanted, as the now-corrupted data that made up Callister's AI faded away from software failure.
  • Surprisingly averted in Andromeda: even warships are depicted as fully sentient and no one really questions it. The only real confusion comes in the form of Avatars, sentient androids who have more or less the same AI as the ship but usually see things differently. On more than one occasion, the titular ship has had an argument with herself. Even Avatars are respected as sentient beings, though; one even becomes captain of another ship.
    • In one episode, "Day of Judgement, Day of Wrath", the Balance of Judgement argues with Rommie that their emotions are only programmed for the benefit of the humans, but she responds that emotions for them are as real as they are for humans.
    • Tyr has no respect for the rights of AIs, but his people are generally douche bags and overfixated on biological procreation, so this is no surprise.
  • The episode "Tin Man" of Stargate SG-1 plays with this concept when the team visits an alien planet and is immediately knocked unconscious. When they wake back up in a strange room, they meet Harlan, a cheerful but mysterious man, who will only insist that he has "made them better." Eventually the team discovers that "better" means "turned into androids". It isn't discovered until later that Harlan did not transform the team into androids, but made perfect android copies of the original SG-1 team, who have been held "captive" on the alien planet and that Harlan himself is an android copy of the original. When the two teams meet, they have to decide what rights each one has to the "life" that they previously each believed to be their own. There are a few Sand in My Eyes moments such as when the viewer realizes that Harlan made the replicas not only to help him maintain his machinery, but also because he was lonely, and Robot O'Neil has a particularly difficult time accepting the fact that he's not the real one.
    • The androids, left as a loose end at the end of that episode, are brought back in a later episode when it turns out that they have been conducting their own missions, and have found a big threat. The two teams team up, and the by the end of the episode the androids have all died. It ties up the loose end, but comes off as being cheap.
  • The Sarah Connor Chronicles deliberately asks this question, especially with Cameron. interestingly, while Cameron remains an unabashedly mechanical entity ruthlessly bound by her programming to protect and kill John Connor, within that programming she shows remarkably human-like tendencies, such as enjoying certain types of music, practicing ballet, or pondering getting a tattoo. She also shows hints of emotion in spite of being supposedly emotionless, with worries and concerns about suicide after she goes "bad" and tries to kill John, confusion and annoyance when John picks up a girlfriend, and what has to be the closest thing to emotionless angst pertaining to her conflicting desires to both protect and to kill John.
    • This is not including the episode "Allison from Palmdale" where Cameron's chip glitches and she literally becomes Allison Young, a resistance fighter whose personality and appearance she stole and then killed. While in the Allison persona, Cameron shows outright fear, panic, anger, happiness, and even undergoes an emotional breakdown complete with a sobbing fit and actual tears. In fact,t he entire episode is one long example of this trope in action.
    • And this is before we even factor in John Henry and Catherine Weaver. Catherine in particular is certainly independently sentient from whatever future AI assigned her and human to the point of being a significant wise-ass.
  • An episode of The Twilight Zone had a robot tell a family how when robots are taken apart, their minds seem to go into a kind of afterlife where they speak with other robots' voices, until they are rebuilt.
    • Another episode featured an old couple living happily in a mansion filled with robot servants, and one unhappy 20 something that wants to get out of the house. In the end, in true Twilight Zone style, she was a robot all along; purposely designed to be their daughter but reprogrammed to give great massages.
  • Pilot episode of Otherworld where the protagonists find themselves in a city populated entirely by androids. In the episode "Rules of Attraction", The older son Trace falls in love with a young girl named Nova (which means "new" in Latin). Invoked when Nova tries to convince Trace to stay with her after he finds out she is an android.
  • Almost Human, an Androids and Detectives show, gives us Dorian the DRN, a specific kind of robot designed for police work, which are fitted with Synthetic Souls to give the same emotional range as humans. While the police doesn't recognise the personhoods of DRN's, his partner John does. A lot of Doria's appeal to John is that he's more 'human' than the standard-issue MX's
  • In Person of Interest, there's a lot of discussion about whether or not the Machine, an advanced computer system that predicts acts of terrorism and other violent crime, is truly intelligent, conscious, or alive. It's all summarized very well by a conversation between the machine's creator and a former colleague.
    Claypool: "Your machine, is it wonderful?"
    Finch: "Wonderful, yes. And terrible. We saved good people, and lost good people. In the end, I'm afraid we've only given the deck a shuffle."
    Finch: "It's not my child, it's a machine!"
    Claypool: "A false dichotomy, it's all electricity. Does it make you laugh? Does it make you weep?"
    Finch: "Yes."
    Claypool: "What's more human?"
    • Throughout the series, the Machine proves itself to be a Benevolent A.I. with a capital B, as it effortlessly passes the Turing Test, displays a sentimental concern for Finch's well-being, and eventually orchestrates complex Xanatos Gambits to protect itself and its human allies while saving as many innocent lives as possible.
  • Extant: Part of the clash that John has with the board when trying to get funding for his Humanichs' project is over the belief that robots lack souls, and thus may be killed if deemed a threat to humanity.
  • Ethan from ''Extant is a prototype AI and android who is treated like a child by his creator/father John. His mother on the other hand has difficulty in treating him like her son (although she does try) and everybody else in the world treats him like a toaster. Later in the series Ethan actually has a dream, something he wasn't programed to do, raising questions over how much control they really have over him.

    Music 
  • Janelle Monae's Concept Album "Metropolis, Suite I: The Chase" is all about this trope.
  • The subject of The Confusion of Hatsune Miku, and noted in many of Cos Mo's songs. (Most of which have a title that's "The _____ of Hatsune Miku.")
  • In The Megas song Lamentations of a War Machine, Mega Man asks this of himself:
    If I've a heart made of steel / Then does that mean I cannot feel / Remorse for everything I've done?
    Is there a soul beneath this shell / And will it go to robot hell?
    • The Message From Dr Light has Dr Light's answer:
    I made you in my image
    I built your heart, I gave you eyes, I gave you power
    A sense of justice beyond any compare
    I gave you hands, a child's face, I gave you hair (ROBOTIC HAIR!)
    But the burning in your heart, I did not put there
  • Upgrade of Steam Powered Giraffe is said to have gone off to pursue her dream of becoming a princess when her actress left the band.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Promethean: The Created never really says what the title Artificial Human creatures dream about. They do dream, however, and if they sleep in contact with their primary element, those dreams cause their Divine Fire to throw off a spark (their Mana, Pyros). The Unfleshed, manmade machines that were infused with Azoth, are more literally attached to the question. The answer seems to be, in the end, "Not really, but they want to."
  • Rifts, interestingly, goes out of its way to note that full-conversion cyborgs dream when they sleep.

    Video Games 
  • Pokémon Black and White introduces the Pokémon dream world, the world in which Pokémon dream. Can artificial Pokémon like Porygon, Castform, Golett or Voltorb enter in this world? answer 
  • The Blade Runner video game from 1997 dwells on this quite a bit, which is only natural considering its inspiration.
  • The Robot Girl in Planetarian wonders at one point whether there is a robot heaven; later, as she is dying, she says that she hopes that robots go to the same heaven that humans do.
  • The Mega Man X, Zero and ZX series, features this trope now and then, though it's at least partially subverted in that the robots themselves don't believe in it. For the most part, the only robots that do are either dangerously malfunctioned (it's been argued that this label really means "they've achieved independent thought") or outright criminal.
    • There's a distinct progression of human like characteristics in the series. In the original series, while robots are very advanced and with distinct personalities and ability to reason, they still are only programmed entities who cannot, by themselves, determine what is good and evil. In the X series, robots, now called reploids, have achieved complete human-like minds, and can literally dream. X himself is even more special, with the ability to "worry" and think deeply about humanity, reploids and their relationships. The Zero series expands on this, introducing Reploid souls, which live in Cyberspace. There's also Andrew, a Reploid Bicentennial Man Shout-Out that decided to modify his body so he could be an old man with his human wife. By the time of the Mega Man Legends series, there's absolutely no distinction between actual humans (which are extinct) and reploids, called Carbons.
    • At the end of a (possibly gaiden) manga belonging to the X series, X made a cross out of junk to put in the tomb of a fallen enemy and asks Zero: Where do reploids go when they die?
  • Amarrian NPCs in EVE Online do not use clones, because they believe cloning damages the soul.
  • Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri has numerous quotes exploring both this and the flipside, cybernetic enhancement, though the game plot does not.
  • Miss Bloody Rachel, the one-woman-robot Boss Rush in Viewtiful Joe 2 is taught to feel emotions by the heroes over the course of their battles...somehow. Of course, after this, her creator sees this as an irreparable glitch and electrocutes her. "What use is an android with a heart?!" She gets better.
  • In Digital Devil Saga, everyone in the Junkyard turns out to be AIs, including your party. They spend a lot of the second game wondering if they're not people, before coming to the conclusion that yes, they are because all people are made of data.
  • In Persona 3, Aegis is basically the living embodiment of this trope. When Junpei expressed surprise (and no small amount of outrage) that a "friggin' robot!" could manifest a Persona, it was explained that Aigis' AI was given an independent, self-aware personality, as well as a humanoid appearance, for that specific purpose. It backfires on The Chessmaster when said personality grows attached to her allies, and eventually she becomes fully human in everything but her physical body.
  • Xenogears: do colonies of nanomachines dream of being hugged by their daddy? the answer is yes, and it turns them into adult good looking One-billion-nanomachines army
    • Xenosaga: does the Android of mass destruction have a soul? Yes once again, and she's actually the girlfriend of the messiah.
      • A more direct version are Realians, Ridiculously Human Robots that can actually undergo therapy to deal with issues (one Combat Realian has mental trouble with battle). It is also said that Realians have an "Emotional Layer" that's considered "optional." This brings distress to MOMO.
  • Surprisingly, this makes TEC in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door one of the most well-developed characters in the game. He starts off as just a hyper-intelligent mainframe for the X-Nauts, then falls in love with Peach, goes through a period of What Is This Thing You Call Love?, before pulling a truly tear jerking Heroic Sacrifice at the end to try and protect her at the cost of all his data relating to Peach and all his Artificial Consciousness functions. Many Manly Tears were shed. Of course he gets better.
  • In the backstory for Mass Effect, the quarians created a machine race, the geth, to serve as mindless labor. Over time, they slowly added more to their programming, to the point where they were able to learn and adapt. This naturally led to the geth pondering the nature of their existence. When the geth start repeatedly asking "do these units have a soul?" the quarians decided to shut them down. The geth were too far along in the road to true sentience and fought back. The war was an absolute disaster for the quarians; the geth drove them from their colonies and homeworld, and forced them into exile. This should sound familiar.
    • In the first game, the geth are uniformly your enemies, even though you can argue about the initial rebellion with Tali. In the sequel, you get a "true geth" teammate, Legion, who explains that the geth working for the Reapers are a separate geth faction, the "heretics"; normal geth just want to be left alone. In game dialogue with Legion, this trope comes up quite a few times as well.
      • It's revealed the geth don't have any hard feelings with the quarians, and perhaps feel sorry for the quarians killed during the war. The geth don't mine the quarian homeworld, but actually rebuilt a lot of the damaged infrastructure in anticipation of the quarians' return. Shepard likens this to a war memorial, but points out that geth don't technically die. Legion responds that the geth do it for the quarians who died in the war.
      • On top of that, the third game reveals that a number of quarians died defending the geth, or were imprisoned for protesting their government's genocide of the sentient machine-race they had created. So the conflict wasn't quite so black-and-white as the current Quarians believed it to be.
      • Legion has a piece of Commander Shepard's N7 armor welded to him, a seemingly impromptu repair job from a sniper rifle shot. If you pressure Legion and ask why he used a piece of your armor as a repair job? "...No data available."
      • The Shadow Broker DLC also shows that Legion has donated money to charities for the heretics' victims.
    • There's a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming in the third game (assuming certain prior conditions are met) when Tali tells Legion that yes, he has a soul. EDI also states that the fact that Legion refers to himself as "I" rather than "We" in his last moments indicates that he achieved full sentience.
    • Even back in the first game, during the Geth Incursion mission, you find a monitor with video of a quarian singing a "mournful a capella of worlds and innocence lost" to a hushed crowd, which the heretic geth are sending to geth worlds beyond the Veil.
    • In the third game, EDI also wonders about this a great deal. Her questions about human behavior and her own responses, including being inspired to rewrite her own self-preservation code, prove that she certainly has emotions, and if that wasn't enough, the possible relationship she can develop with Joker proves it beyond a doubt.
  • The issue of robot civil rights appears to be a divisive one in the Black Market universe. If the side missions are anything to go by, very few humans consider robots and AIs to be people at all, while the main robot rights campaign undermines itself by employing exceedingly dubious methods.
  • In Fallout 3, there is a mission where a professor asks you to find an android. After asking around for the android, you are confronted by a group of people who specifically help androids to escape from slavery.
  • Used differently in Chrono Trigger, where the humanity (or lack thereof) of androids like Robo is simply never questioned. The only noticeable difference between them and humans is that they are allowed to be killed. Robot familial ties and emotions are alluded to multiple times.
    • However, Robo seems to be the only robot who feels these emotions, as shown by the reaction of his "brothers" who attack him without mercy, since he's technically malfunctioning. Then again, in the credits he's shown together with a pink robot, so we don't know if independence is the default state or not.
      • Going on the evidence in-game, only certain robots were built with emotions and independence - those designed by Mother Brain specifically to Kill All Humans. The R6 Series (the ones who attack Robo in the Factory) aren't in this category; Prometheus (a.k.a. Robo) and Atropos (the pink robot) are.
  • Final Fantasy XI: "What a ridiculous question. Whether it be this automaton, or a marionette from years past, I pour the same amount of heart into every piece. All puppetmakers breathe a soul into their work."Ghatsad the Puppetmaker, in response to the query "Do automatons have a soul?"
  • Bioware's Knights of the Old Republic features a side quest on Dantooine where a woman asks you to find her stray protocol droid, explaining that it's the only thing that remains to remind her of her dead husband. When you find it, it's being attacked by kath hounds. Upon rescue, however, it explains that it had travelled out there voluntarily seeking to be destroyed, stating that it believed that its continued existence would only prevent her from ever truly coming to terms with the loss of her husband. You are then left with the choice to convince it to return to her, or to sympathize with it and destroy it, then tell her of its demise.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Bionic Heart, the protagonist struggles with the fact that his android love interest seems to feel and express emotions just as any human would. It certainly helps that she has a functioning human brain and can access some human memories.
  • In Da Capo there is a Robot Girl. Most of the plot relating to her is about how human she is. She claims that she can dream, while her creator dismisses it.

    Webcomics 
  • In the opening scene of Artifice, two security guards debate the status of a new android soldier and whether it deserves the title of being called an "Artificial Person"
  • In The Inexplicable Adventuresof Bob, Princess Voluptua (coming as she does from an advanced alien race and therefore being familiar with AI's) asks Roofus the Robot outright if he is artificially conscious or "just artificially intelligent." Roofus admits he doesn't know, and Voluptua concludes he is conscious, because "a simple A.I. would lie about it."
  • Chapter 10 of Megatokyo begins with Robot Girl Ping waking up from a dream.
  • In Narbonic, the AI Lovelace falls in love, experiences loss, and even wins 'her' emancipation in the epilogue. But true to the trope, the catalyst for all of this was someone acknowledging her as anything more than a machine.
  • The robots of Gunnerkrigg Court seem to have distinct personalities, their own society beyond the eyes of the human inhabitants, and a near-religious regard for the mysterious Tiktoks. They also seek answers to questions regarding their purpose and meaning, as well as how to improve themselves (one of the most prominant being " why did our creator engineer the death of the woman he loved?").
  • In Freefall, Sam is surprised to hear that the local robots are taking an interest in religion. After all, robots don't have souls - or do they? The bible seller replies "I think that's what they are trying to find out."
    • It turns out later that after a series of mishaps with their damaged-in-transit automated factories, the colonists went with a different type of AI which was originally designed as an uplift program.
  • Bob and George: Robots don't have souls!
  • Keychain of Creation: If there's no machine heaven, where do all the toasters go?
    • The last we see of Mew Cai, after her destruction, is her avatar curled up on a cloud, watching a toaster's soul fly past her.
  • Questionable Content: Jeph Jacques has done several strips dedicated to this trope, as well as What Measure Is a Non-Human?. It should also be noted that he is a self-confessed fan of the The Culture, which explains his attention to these details.
  • In Commander Kitty, it turns out they do. They also hallucinate.
  • Manly Guys Doing Manly Things has a one-off strip that deliberately inverts this trope Just for Pun.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • In the episode "His Silicon Soul" of Batman: The Animated Series, there is a robot doppleganger of Batman who attempts to kill him as part of a plot to create a robot army to take over the world. It's leftover from the plot of a previous episode and, due to the events there, thinks it's the real Batman. When it discovered it was a robot, it grew resentful of the real Batman and wanted to have his life. However, when it believes it has killed him, it is horrified and commits suicide in despair. This causes Batman to wonder to Alfred, in the final lines of the episode:
    Bruce: It seems it was more than wires and microchips after all. Could it be it had a soul, Alfred? A soul of silicon, but a soul nonetheless?
    • D.A.V.E. from The Batman episode "Gotham's Ultimate Criminal Mastermind" thinks he's the greatest villain in Gotham City but is actually a program based on the psychological profiles of Arkham's most dangerous criminals. Batman defeats him by confronting him about his lack of origin story.
  • In the first episode of Futurama, Bender is introduced as nothing more than a bending robot who follows his programing. He shatters a lightbulb with his antenna, zapping him, and suddenly he has become more that his programming intended.
    • Actually, Bender is introduced as a robot who tries to commit suicide until Fry stops him from doing so. Since he doesn't renew his efforts after his accident, the argument could be made that his "soul" struggled with his programming to let him be an individual, and that the conflict drove him to despair; but once the light socket shorted out his program, he became free to pursue his own destiny.
      • Given that the robots have been presented as fully sentient in every other episode of the show, it may just be a case of Rule of Funny or Continuity Drift.
      • Or the lightbulb turned him evil. He didn't show any signs of being evil until after the lightbulb incident. Though given he is frequently stated to have an extensive criminal record that dates back a long time, Bender might have been reprogrammed to not be a criminal as a result of his many crimes, and the lightbulb was was returned him to his baseline programming.
    • Bender dreams of killing all humans. And occasionally the number 2.
      Conan O'Brien: Listen pal, I may have lost my freakishly long legs in the War of 2012, but I still have something you'll never have: a soul.
      Bender: Meh.
      Conan O'Brien: And freckles!
      Bender: (sobs uncontrollably)
  • Dr. Wakeman of My Life as a Teenage Robot asks herself that exact question when her robot daughter Jenny "XJ9" Wakeman asks for the ability to Dream.
  • In an episode of South Park, Eric Cartman pretended to be a robot to learn Butters's secrets, but gets kidnapped by the U.S. millitary while still in disguise. Cartman tries to convince the millitary that he's not a robot, but they believe he's a robot programmed to think it was a human with memories. When Butters rescues Cartman, the general was in the middle of An Aesop on the situation when Cartman accidentally farts, exposing himself.
  • The subject of the Sym-Bionic Titan episode "I Am Octus." Octus, when looking at a painting with his human(oid) companions, only sees paint and a canvas rather than an image. After a Mutraddi causes all organic creatures to freeze, Octus remains mobile and tries to figure out how to undo this. He asks himself "I am not a human, but I'm not just a robot. Am I both? Or neither?" He manages to be capable of painting a beautiful picture.
  • In Green Lantern: The Animated Series, the villains of the second arc are the Manhunters, who detect the capacity of emotion as a red spot in the chest (never mind that emotions initiate in the head, just go with it). When Aya (an android) saves Razer from one, we get a POV from the Manhunter, showing the humanoids with the emotion color, and Aya as an outline. Then, the red appears in her. The Manhunter intones "Emotions detected" and attacks her.

     Real Life 
  • This is explored in the Philosophy of Mind, with the concept of Philosophical Zombie (unrelated to the Zombie Apocalypse). Central to it is the concept of Qualia. Now tell me, what is the measure of a sentient being?
  • To a large degree, this question mirrors, and is superseded by, a fundamental question of human existence in the first place. After all, this trope comes down to two questions: do robots/androids have souls, and do they go to Heaven when they "die"? But there is a chunk of the population that believes that neither souls nor Heaven exist at all.
    • Most atheists still believe in consciousness. They may or may not believe that robots can be conscious, or even that robots can act conscious, and there's still the question of what exactly it takes to make a robot conscious.
      • And anyone who knows how to program will tell you it's relatively easy to make an AI that seems to exhibit human qualities, but that under no circumstances is it anything more than a series of instructions being carried out based on logical comparisons and using the input provided. It remains to be determined whether this fact is actually true of humans as well on a massively increased scale.
      • Let's just say it's highly contentious. For starters, David Hume's philosophy of ideas argues that even for humans, all ideas are built in various ways out of previous experiences.


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