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Job-Stealing Robot

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They kept Homer because no machine can be as entertaining when it fails.

Reasons for anti-robot rioting certainly existed. Men who found themselves faced with the prospect of the desperate minimum involved in declassification, after half a lifetime of effort, could not decide cold-bloodedly that individual robots were not to blame. Individual robots could at least be struck at.
One could not strike at something called "governmental policy" or at a slogan like "Higher production with robot labor."

As technology advances, robots become more complex and more capable of doing a greater variety of things - at a faster, better and more consistent rate than if a human were to perform the same task. When robots have achieved a level of capability that business owners buy them and replace their human employees, you have a Job-Stealing Robot.

The Job-Stealing Robot does not need to necessarily be a robot; a piece of software or other type of machine may do the trick. The point is that artificial constructs are being built and are replacing the old workforce.

Definitely Truth in Television: advances in computing, artificial intelligence, robotics have led to a lot of manual, analytical and office jobs being replaced or consolidated. Unless humans begin to augment themselves to match these machines' capabilities, there's little chance that man will dominate machine in an increasing amount of fields of competence.

While technically this would allow humans to free themselves from monotone tedious labor as productivity increases, making people displaced by robots benefit from robot-made goods would require a major overhaul of the economy, necessitating political and social solutions, not merely technological. Many socio-political theorists and futurists do believe that, at some point before the middle of this century if technological progress is any indication, robots will indeed replace the vast majority of human jobs, effectively leading to a "Post-Capitalist" social order. While no one is quite sure of what exactly will that entail, this is bound to result in a net increase of humanity's prosperity - the question is whether everyone will be able to benefit from it or humanity would be divided into robot owners and everyone else. In the worst case scenario, reserved for Dystopias, elites refuse to share the newfound prosperity and solve unemployment by killing the poor now that they are unnecessary.

A plot that involves this trope will most likely also involve someone hating the robot for the fact that they steal people's jobs - especially theirs.

An application of Technology Marches On and subtrope of Man Versus Machine. Overlaps with Ludd Was Right. When someone fights against the Job-Stealing Robot, particularly when using questionable means, you're looking at an Evil Luddite. More often that not, due to the fact that humans tend to triumph or compromise with machines by story's end. Compare Undead Laborers for the fantasy counterpart. Contrast We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future. Compare and Contrast Rotten Robotic Replacement, which is about a single character or group being replaced, with disastrous results. See also Obsolete Occupation, for those career paths that have gone out of date.


    open/close all folders 

  • There's an ad for Progressive Insurance where spokeswoman Flo fears she'll be replaced by Flobot (who has since appeared with Flo and others in another ad).

    Anime and Manga 
  • The Animatrix gives us a rare example of "Economy-Stealing Robots". Due to a growing economic crisis, the Human Nations manufacturing and innovation were being outpaced by the highly-efficient Machine Nation of 01. 01 sent two ambassadors to the United Nations with a proposal to try solving the growing economic crisis in-exchange for recognition as a member of the UN Council; only for the Humans to deny their request and have the ambassadors destroyed out of spite; and leading to the beginning of the Human-Machine War.
  • This is a pivotal plot point in Armitage III, due to the high employment rate of robots, on Mars. The human populace objects strongly, sometimes violently, to this and regularly hold public protests, to denounce robots and demand their jobs back. In fact, The War of Earthly Aggression stems from a particularly unusual example of this trope. Earth, having become a Lady Land, objects to the idea of Mars developing Ridiculously Human Robots that are capable of breeding with humans, thus stealing the "job" of pregnancy from human women. And incidentally ruining their power-base.
  • Metropolis (2001) also has a pivotal plot point about robots being loathed for causing high unemployment rates, so much so that a whole subterranean level of the city, "Zone 1", is inhabited by those who lost their jobs, and are on the verge of revolting against the higher-ups in the surface who allowed this to happen.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! VRAINS: SOLtis, an android that helps with everyday life is accused of this trope by several workers.

    Comic Books 
  • 2000 AD:
    • A common theme in Judge Dredd stories is citizens struggling to cope with mass unemployment caused by nearly all jobs being performed by robots. By some estimates, the unemployment rate in Mega-City One is between 87-91%. With jobs nearly impossible to get, the citizens of Mega-City One struggle to find ways to keep themselves occupied. Among the most popular are getting as fat as humanly possible and engaging in various crimes, the latter of which partially explains the nightmarishly-high crime rate.
    • The Simping Detective (a spinoff of Dredd) has an inversion. Zig is a janitor for a large company because it's cheaper to hire him than use robot janitors.
    • Tharg's Future Shocks: Ulysses Sweet is hired by a group of human workers who have lost their jobs to robots so that he'll wipe out their opposition. However, the humans turn on each other after they realize that they'll now have to do all the unpleasant and difficult jobs that humans either don't want or don't know how to do anymore. Also, Ulyssess was a mole for the robots, who hired him to get rid of those pesky humans.
  • This trope sets up the series American Flagg!. Actor Reuben Flagg, star of the hit TV show Mark Thrust: Sexus Ranger, gets replaced by his own Tromplographic™ Ink-Suit Actor duplicate. He then gets drafted into the real Rangers and sent to Chicago, which is where the story begins.
  • In one The Simpsons comic, Homer is given a controlling share of Duff Brewery, and discovers the previous owner had vetoed a plan to have the brewery staffed by robots. He overturns the veto, but doing so makes him unpopular with the employees, who sabotage the robots and go on strike.

    Comic Strips 
  • This Dilbert strip. The comic also has a robot character that frequently threatens its co-workers with this possibility.
    • In another strip, Carol asks Dilbert what college major he would recommend her son pursue. Dilbert points out that "it will take him fifteen years to pay off his student loans, but most jobs will be replaced by robots in ten". He adds that "the world will always need bankers" but Carol is "trying to steer him away from crime".
  • Meta Inversion: The strip Robotman became Robotman and Monty, and then finally just Monty when Robotman was written out.
  • What's New? with Phil and Dixie. In Dragon magazine #63 (July 1982) the strip had a robot Phil that was designed to replace the real Phil Foglio on the staff. Phil managed to defeat the robot by shorting him out with water, but then a robot Dixie appeared... Read it here.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Zee Rust future of Plan 7 of 9 from Outer Space, while restrictions are placed on robots competing with workers, it's now housewives whom find themselves out of a job because they're being replaced by Robot Maids and SexBots. Annika-709 of S.H.E. (Society for Human Enhancement) offers them the chance to become cyborgs so they can compete on an equal basis, while the Home Subjugation Front calls for housewives to "reject the soulless machines of modern consumerism, and return to a Golden Age of exploitation and domestic drudgery."

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Gigolo Joe boasts to one of his clients that "Once you've had a lover robot, you will never want a real man again." (That's no idle boast. Sex ''dolls'' with far fewer features than Gigolo Joe is shown to have are already stealing prostitutes' jobs.)
  • In Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, Bill & Ted get killed and replaced by "evil robot us'es" which look exactly like Bill & Ted, but are programmed to be evil in order to destroy Bill & Ted's reputation so they don't become awesome rock stars and turn the world to peace. They fight back by recruiting an alien genius who builds "good robot us'es" capable of destroying the evil ones, even though they look like they were cobbled together from random appliances (they were). They also make for great backup dancers.
  • The Creator (2023): The movie begins with L.A. being nuked by a rogue AI, which apparently has since casued conspriacy theories that it was to somehow take people's jobs.
  • Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Mr. Bucket gets laid off from his job screwing in caps at a toothpaste factory after the Wonka candy bars contest causes an increase in toothpaste sales, letting the factory buy a machine. The factory later rehires him to repair and maintain the machine.
  • Extinction (2018): This is one of the complaints we see frequently leveled at androids in the flashbacks.
  • Harrison Bergeron: It's said the Great Recession didn't end the way other ones had due to automation, which meant increasing numbers of people never got work again. Due to this, a revolution occurred as the unrest grew, in a huge backlash against the elite which were blamed, with strict enforced equality afterward.
  • In Heroes for Sale, laundromat workers start rioting because a new machine has taken their jobs.
  • Hidden Figures takes place when NASA had their calculations performed by human computers with a pencil and calculator. But when Dorothy Vaughan, the supervisor-in-all-but-name of the "colored" computer team, sees an IBM mainframe being installed she realizes that she and her team will be out of a job soon. So, she learns Fortran and teaches her team how to run it.
  • I, Robot: This is one of the many reasons that Del Spooner dislikes robots. Discussed and invoked in a conversation with US Robotics' CEO Lawrence Robertson:
    Spooner: Now, this isn't what I normally do, but I have an idea for one of your commercials. You see a carpenter, and he's making a beautiful chair. Then one of your robots comes in and makes a better chair, twice and fast. And then you superimpose on the screen: "USR. Shittin' On The Little Guy."
    Robertson: I take it your father lost his job to a robot?
  • Inspector Gadget (1999):
    • Mayor Wilson speculates on this.
      Mayor Wilson: He'll make you obsolete. No hazard pay, no 'blue flu'... and he won't call me 'Evil Gidget' behind my back.
    • This is also what Claw has in mind for the RoboGadget prototype.
      Dr. Claw: ...Techno-warriors who never get tired, never get hungry, and never say 'no'. Every army in the world will be made up of my creations.
  • In the semi-futuristic setting of Logan, robot-controlled, cabinless trucks are used instead of traditional drivers. Besides having apparently thrown the industry somewhat out of whack, they direct traffic at everyone else's expense.
    Logan: Motherfucking autotrucks...
  • According to The Matrix backstory, this is the reason humans started fighting the machines. Artificial Intelligence had evolved to a point where machines became better than humans at everything. Eventually, the humans started discriminating against the machines and kicked them out. The machines claimed a worthless piece of desert, turned it into a gigantic company town for machines, and decided to export absolutely everything except labor so they couldn't steal jobs from abroad, but that just made humans angrier and started a war. And to twist the blade, this trope was inverted when the machines won the war; they discovered that humans were capable of some kind of psionic energy that gave them the power to subconsciously create energy from almost nothing, so they were all forcefully drafted as human crops in machine-grass fields. Initially the process was excruciatingly painful, and now it is totalitarian enslavement to the titular Lotus-Eater Machine Matrix.
  • RoboCop is initially feared to be this by his fellow cops, but he eventually is accepted as a valuable comrade who just happens to be particularly tough with special abilities that can take on threats head on and draw fire from his fellows. To be fair, Murphy is the only one who manages to go through the transformation without being Driven to Suicide. In the 2014 reboot, Robocop is meant for much the same purpose, except the intent is to use him as a publicity tool so they can legalize the use of actual robots on US soil.
  • Terminator: Dark Fate opens with Dani's brother losing his job to an industrial robot literally overnight. A parallel is drawn between this trope and military AI like Skynet, discussing how humanity always searches for ways to replace manpower with machines, to advance science no matter the human cost. As the Terminator itself says in the second film, it is in our nature.
  • In Top Gun: Maverick, Maverick's days as a test pilot risk coming to an end when less and less pilots are needed with the rise of attack drones unless he pushes a new prototype plane to Mach 10, which of course he does. Drones replacing pilots more and more is also brought up later on.
  • In WarGames, the computer is used to replace human commanders in charge of missile silos. Leo McGarry glances significantly at the machine when he's being relieved by it. Although this isn't so much about lost jobs as it is about the increased risk of A Nuclear Error.


By Author:

  • Isaac Asimov:
    • The Caves of Steel has people becoming unemployed due to robots being introduced by the Spacers. It is revealed to be part of a plan to create large numbers of unemployed people who will become a new wave of settlers.
    • "Galley Slave": Professor Ninheimer reveals his motivation to Dr Calvin at the end of the story; he had tried to frame robot EZ-27 because he believed that robots like EZ would obsolete the job of the scholar.
    • In I, Robot, most of the later stories taking place in space because organized labor ban robots from being used on Earth from fear of competition. However, robots eventually develop to the point that telling them apart from humans is impossible.
    • "Sally": Jacob Folkers was a chauffeur, but self-driving cars, like the titular Sally, eliminate his job entirely. Fortunately, his current employer irrationally refuses to trust the machine and keeps Jake around to clean and repair the car.
      I only knew it was taking my job away and I hated it.
      I said, "You won't be needing me anymore, Mr. Harridge?"
      He said, "What are you dithering about, Jake? You don't think I'll trust myself to a contraption like that, do you? You stay right at the controls."
      I said, "But it works by itself, Mr. Harridge. It scans the road, reacts properly to obstacles, humans, and other cars, and remembers routes to travel."
      "So they say. So they say. Just the same, you're sitting right behind the wheel in case anything goes wrong."
  • Kurt Vonnegut:
    • Vonnegut's first novel Player Piano is all about this, including the quintessential example of a character who invents the machine that can do his job, not realizing the company will fire him instead of rewarding him.
    • In Breakfast of Champions, one of several billboards put up in Midland City during the Great Depression by the Robo-Magic Corporation of America, and written by its founder Fred T. Barry, advertised the company's washing machines with a image of a black maid comically popping her eyes out at two deliverymen carrying a Robo-Magic into a house and exclaiming in a Speech Balloon: "Feets, get movin'! Dey's got theirselves a Robo-Magic! Dey ain't gonna be needin' us 'roun' here no mo'!" Barry's dream that Robo-Magic appliances would one day take care of "all the Nigger work of the world" (white women such as Dwayne Hoover's stepmother and Vonnegut's own mother and sister considered such chores as cleaning, cooking and ironing to be "Nigger work" and refused to do it themselves) never quite came to be, as the Robo-Magic company found more success applying its electronic technology to weapons development during World War II and became known as the Midland City Ordnance Company. However, it seems that white residents of Midland City did find other ways to do most of the work they used to hire black people for (one workman says he doesn't know how much horsepower the digging machine he operates has, but "we call it The Hundred-Nigger Machine"), since the city now has a chronic racial problem:
      Nobody white had much use for black people—except for the gangsters who sold the black people used cars and dope and furniture. Still, the reindeernote  went on reproducing. There were these useless, big black animals everywhere, and a lot of them had very mean dispositions. They were given small amounts of money every month, so they wouldn't have to steal. There was talk of giving them very cheap dope, too—to keep them listless and cheerful and uninterested in reproduction.

By Title:

  • Many of the Grantville Gazette short stories written to expand on the 1632 novels feature the impact of the uptimers introducing nineteenth or early twentieth century tools and factory designs to a seventeenth century world, which often force the guilds that do that job at the time to either retool or go out of business.
  • Richard Brautigan's best known poem, "All Watched over By Machines of Loving Grace", predicts The Singularity freeing humanity to create a new Arcadia, "a cybernetic forest/ filled with pines and electronics/ where deer stroll peacefully/ past computers/ as if they were flowers/ with spinning blossoms." Hippies were some of the first to experiment with / develop the technology that over the years became what you're reading this on.
  • Ascendance of a Bookworm: Myne's Giving Radio to the Romans includes introducing the printing press in a setting in which books are individually handcrafted luxury items involving the labor of multiple people. One of the reasons she eventually needs to get adopted into nobility is that handwriting books is a job frequently found in the Impoverished Patrician class and introducing something that will start slowly eating away at their source of revenue and eventually force them to learn a brand new trade to keep having a job in the best-case scenario can only be done as someone of even higher status.
  • Discworld:
    • In Feet of Clay, Sgt Colon has a conversation with a wick-dipper who's been made redundant since the candle factory started employing a golem.
    • Averted in Making Money by Moist's swift intervention. Adora Belle Dearheart ends up bringing four thousand golems from the lost city of Um (yes, that's its name) to Ankh-Morpork. While they really would be job-stealing robots to the point of bankrupting the city (because unlike humans, they don't spend money), Moist decides to put them to good use not actually doing work, but burying themselves in a safe place and becoming the basis for his new currency.
  • The novel Manna by Marshall Brain argues that robots would make efficient managers far faster than they would make efficient employees, creating a dystopia in which workers are still human but they are saddled with AI governing their every step. Of course, eventually advances in computer vision would allow for the creation of said robotic employees, causing the near full scale robotization of labor and the masses of resulting unemployed to be shunted into government provided housing that end up being little more than prison camps by the wealthy and powerful who are waiting for them to die out of sight.
  • The novel Invitation To The Game begins with young adults, freshly graduated from college, being relegated to a slum because robotic labor is more convenient. Two of the protagonists' friends got to go home to family businesses instead... only to arrive in the slum later because those were converting to robotic labor. Turns out the slum life is also to shape them into bands of True Companions for the titular Game, and the friends' family businesses were deliberately converted because this particular group was incomplete without those two friends.
  • Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg's The Positronic Man: One of the groups objecting to Andrew's attempt to gain his freedom is the Regional Labor Federation, who always oppose robot distribution and suddenly find themselves arguing the same side as United States Robots and Mechanical Men. They don't want robots to be recognized as people who deserve freedom because they fear that it will cause a loss of work for human beings.
    "How ironic! To have built a tool so good that it takes command of its builders! To be supplanted by our own machinery-to be made obsolete by it, to be relegated to the scrapheap of evolution-"
  • A non-fiction book by Federico Pistono explaining technological unemployment is called Robots Will Steal Your Job, But That's OK. Recently, it became available online for free, as a part of the author's decision to raise awareness of the issue and why it's likely to be a benefit in the long run.
  • Star Wars:
    • Comes up in Galaxy of Fear: The Doomsday Ship. It's a Star Wars book, so droids are everywhere, but it's noted that there are things they can't do which organic beings can. For one, droids are rarely able to exceed or surpass their programming; without extensive modification, most have trouble with things not closely related to what they're designed to handle. A prototype AI is being installed into a ship which is adaptable and can handle things its human crew does, to the resentment of its captain.
    • The Book The New Essential Guide To Droids establishes that a combination of this trope and quite a few droid rebellious are the main causes of Anti-Droid Sentiment. Specific examples include Genetech, who were the first company to use the "Machines making machines" assembly line of the type seen in Attack of the Clones, and the Aratech BRT Supercomputer which is not actually a droid but still hated for having taken the jobs of municipal workers. The book does also establish some droids have taken the jobs most Organics are unable or unwilling to do (such as working in metal smelting plants or cleaning windows on the mile buildings found on worlds like Coruscant).
  • The Veldt: Lydia has come to consider her family's fully automated house to be one, fearing that it has replaced her as a mother-figure to her and George's children. A child psychologist eventually confirms that she's right.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Aliens in the Family: After Cookie gets a job and wants to build robots to increase productivity, the president of the company decides to fire all the employees and replace them with robots.
  • An episode of The Avengers (1960s) had a small town taken hostage (with a nuke) by a general furious over being replaced with a machine.
  • A Truth in Television example is found in Cable Girls. The main characters of the series all work as telephone operators, and a Story Arc in the first season is the Telephone Company developing an automatic rotary dial system that will replace all of their jobs.
  • Plenty of them in Cybervillage. One of the reasons Baragozin is hated.
  • Doctor Who: In "Kerblam!", despite the law requiring Kerblam! and, presumably, all similarly-sized MegaCorps to have a minimum of 10% organic staff, robotic workers causing mass unemployment is still a major problem throughout the galaxy.
  • The second episode of Family Matters had a plot where Harriet lost her job as an elevator operator because the newspaper she worked for installed an automated elevator. She applied for and got rehired by the company as Director of Security, after a Rousing Speech about how raising her family gave her all the skills and on-the-job training for the position.
  • Humans: Mattie Hawkins believes there will be no skilled jobs for humans in the future. A newspaper headline in the Title Sequence also shows this fear. One of the members of We Are People partly bases his speech on this.
  • A sketch from The Kids in the Hall has this happening with the entirely nonsensical job of standing all day with your arms in a vat of dead fish. At the end, it turns out that the boss who made the call to replace all the workers with machines is himself secretly a robot.
  • This is brought up in Last Week Tonight with John Oliver when discussing an attempt by Lowe's to replace their sales associates with robots. John disapproves of this, not because he inherently disagrees with using robots in place of humans, but because robots are fundamentally incapable of performing the real job sales associates are there for: keeping couples from ruining their marriages over petty arguments.
  • Legends of Tomorrow: Played with. When Hank is auditing the Legends, he asks why, if Gideon is a fully autonomous AI who can do anything on the ship, she needs a crew at all. He not-so-subtly implies they should get rid of everyone else to save money (nevermind that the Legends aren't actually being paid). Hank doesn't get an answer, but it's been demonstrated several times that Gideon needs people for repairs and maintenance, not to mention any excursions off the ship.
  • In the Dudley Moore episode of The Muppet Show, Dudley brings with the Music And Mood Management Apparatus, a robot programmed to play any sort of music for any scene. The machine is quickly resented by the Show's normal musicians for endangering their livelihood, especially when Kermit decides to give the device a try. It is eventually destroyed when it interrupts Gonzo's bomb-defusing act.
  • In the Parks and Recreation episode "Doppelgangers", the Pawnee Parks Department is merged with the Eagleton Parks Department. Tom's counterpart, "Eric", turns out to be a computer program called Eagleton Reservation Information Center. In order to save his job, Tom takes advantage of Leslie not knowing that E.R.I.C. is nonhuman and pulls an Invented Individual scheme to convince her that "Eric" is an out-of-control racist drug-dealer.
  • An episode of Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue features a scientist introducing a group of Robot Rangers. This leads to the Lightspeed Rangers out of work...until the robots malfunction.
  • Real Humans: Roger and many other people lost jobs to them, and it's used as a stock argument by the Real Humans party.
  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Ultimate Computer", Starfleet decides it's a great idea for a computer to replace Kirk as captain of the Enterprise. The computer goes evil, of course.
  • Total Recall 2070 had an episode about it, which mentions official regulations such as at least X% of workers being human.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): In the episode "The Brain Center at Whipple's", a callous business executive replaces all of his workers with machines, putting them out of work. At the end, he suffers karmic justice as he is replaced by Robby the Robot.
  • In The Wire union leader Frank Sobotka is horrified by the upcoming trend of mechanical automatization rendering stevedore manual labour obsolete.
  • WKRP in Cincinnati:
    • In Yet Another Christmas Carol episode, Mr. Carlson is taken to the future, where he has replaced everyone at the station with computers except Herb (the sales manager).
    • When another radio station tries to hire Venus away from WKRP, he learns that the entire station is automated; he'd be the Token Human on the air.

  • Parodied in an Old Master Q strip where the titular character is fired for sleeping at work, and promptly replaced by a robot who does all his work. The moment Master Q leaves, cue the robot sleeping on the job as well, to the boss' dismay.

  • Mentioned in Bad Religion's "Punk Rock Song":
    Like workers in a factory, we do our share
    But there's so many other fucking robots out there.
  • The Clockwork Quartet's song "The Watchmaker's Apprentice" has the titular apprentice being replaced by a machine. In retaliation he rigs a watch to kill one of his master's customers, framing him for manslaughter and ruining his reputation.
  • Daniel Amos's "Incredible Shrinking Man", from Vox Humana, includes the lyrics:
    Machines remind you
    that you can be replaced
  • Dead Kennedys' "Soup Is Good Food", as a vicious rant about unemployment, naturally cites this trope.
    We're sorry, but you're no longer needed
    Or wanted, or even cared about here
    Machines can do a better job than you
    And this is what you get for asking questions
    The unions agree, sacrifices must be made
    Computers never go on strike
    To save the working man
    You got to put him out to pasture
    Looks like we'll have to let you go
    Doesn't it feel fulfilling to know
    That you, the human being, are now obsolete
    And there's nothing in hell we'll let you do about it?
  • Played for Laughs in the Lost Dogs' cover version of "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)". The Studio Chatter in this version is completely different from the original song: here, band member Derri Daugherty doesn't bother to show up to the session, and he sends the Virtual Derri computer program to record for him. As the song progresses, the other band members get fed up and leave, one by one, each activating their virtual counterparts as they go. By the song's end, the computer programs are the only ones in the studio, and they plan to take over the entire music industry.
    Virtual Terry: This will be great. Recording without humans. [...]
    Virtual Mike: Hey, guys, how many musicians does it take to screw in a light bulb?
    Virtual Gene: How many?
    Virtual Mike: All of them. Because they are now unemployed. And they need a job. Get it?
  • The Protomen's Act II has this occur as Dr. Wily's machines replace the human workforce entirely, who are happy to not have to work in dangerous places.
  • Styx: The song "Mr. Roboto" touches on this.
    Thank you very much, Mr. Roboto
    For doing the jobs that nobody wants to

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Averted in the Imperium... not that it makes human lives any better. We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future is in full effect, with some of the most advanced weapons in the galaxy reloaded by slaves on treadmills. This is for several reasons: The last time humanity meddled with AI, the Iron Men rebelled and nearly won, humanity reaches populations in the billions for a single Mega City, and because general life expectancy is very short. Thankfully, the Imperium has a way to reconcile repetitive or dangerous tasks with automation: lobotomizing people and grafting cybernetics so as to produce servitors, who are used in everything from heavy lifting to suppressive fire to co-piloting ships to operating elevators.
    • Averted by the Tau, who use a lot of actual A.I.s in their armies. Tau society is rigidly turned towards the concept of the Greater Good (every individual action is taken so it benefits the Tau as a whole), so not only is every worker needed for their job, they're fine with robotic assistance (and even then, the robots are given escape protocols so they too will retreat instead of being sacrificed, which runs counter to the Greater Good). Before you go thinking of the Tau as a utopia, it's entirely possible that their society runs thanks to mind-control pheromones.
  • In Eberron, the Warforged have this reputation mixed with a bit of "job-stealing immigrant" in the eyes of many people across Khorvaire. Frequently treated more as things than people, they also have to compete with returning human(oid) veterans for work. They often end up hired for repetitive, dangerous, or abjectly mind-numbing labor that their squishier counterparts can't or don't want to do, but pointing that out isn't likely to blunt the contempt they face. It's little wonder that more and more of them keep disappearing into the Mournland to join the Lord of Blades or the cult of the Becoming God.
  • In Transhuman Space, automation has eliminated most unskilled jobs, putting anyone without a university degree (or a creative job and an audience) out of work. In the developed world, governments compensate for this with a welfare system that makes work a choice rather than a necessity, and only about 30% of the population actually work full-time. Poorer countries can't support this kind of social security; many try to make up for it by mandating that factories employ a certain number of people in makework jobs. Others simply tax automated factories to pay for welfare programs; this is called the "Libyan Tax" after Libya, who were the country to introduce the idea.

  • In The Adding Machine, white-collar slave Mr. Zero, hoping for a raise or promotion after twenty-five years of employment, is instead told by his boss that he's to be replaced by a machine that will do his job more efficiently. To say that Zero doesn't take this well would be an understatement.

    Video Games 
  • Invoked Trope in Atomic Heart where the Soviet Union has been exporting their robots to the West in order to increase unemployment and create unrest. Turns out that's not the only reason, as each one is a Trojan Horse Killer Robot.
  • In Portal 2, when exploring Old Aperture underground, you can see posters on the wall from when Aperture Science started using their own employees as test subjects and started using robots to do the humans' work. One of these posters features an employee (called "Karla the Complainer") complaining about her boss being a robot, and it assures readers that robots work harder than you, can do your job better than you, and are all-around better than you.
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution has a slight variation in the form of job-stealing cyborgs; one of the main anti-aug camps' arguments boils down to "cyborgs have an unfair advantage in the job market". The counter-argument is that cyborgs can do jobs baseline humans couldn't possibly manage (such as the construction of Panchaea, a gigantic geo-engineering facility in the Arctic that extends all the way to the ocean floor). The original Deus Ex also had cyborgs with older augments worried that the nano-tech enhanced protagonist will make them obsolete.
    • One of the most confusing aspects of the series is its continued reliance on We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future. Even in Deus Ex: Invisible War, which is set twenty years after the original game and in a world of extremely advanced artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and security robotics, there's very litle mention of job-killing automation whatsoever. Indeed, all menial jobs you encounter are staffed by humans (and cyborgs), and there's never any real mention or angst of the possibility of intelligent machines replacing humans in the workforce except in the background and as part of the endings. This despite the series' otherwise renowned and in-depth handling of future societal issues, many of which are beginning to enter wider social debates.
  • Spark the Electric Jester: The titular protagonist of the same name is actually fired and replaced by a robot twice, first as an engineer and second as a circus worker, for which he is replaced by a not so convincing copy of himself, which he nicknamed "Fark".
  • Team Fortress 2: One of the lines said by the Soldier in the Tin Soldier Halloween outfit:
    I am a robot. I am here to take American jobs.
  • In the Flash game Manufactoria, the player ends up doing this to themselves by successfully testing robot engineers, who then immediately usurp their job (though due to... reasons, the player is allowed to stick around afterwards). The same thing happens in the sequel, Manufactoria 2022, where, by the time the penultimate set of levels happen, robots have become so ubiquitous that the one mandatory level of the pack is testing robot counselors for people who have lost jobs to the robots.
  • The Excuse Plot of Job Simulator is that you're a person living in a distant future world where all human labor has been replaced by robots, and indulging in wildly-inaccurate VR recreations of "jobs" is one of the past-times found in this future.
  • In Detroit: Become Human, Ridiculously Human Robots have taken over practically every job in the US, which has resulted in a 40% unemployment rate and a major factor behind the Fantastic Racism.
  • In the Pre-War era of Fallout, one of the many problems with modern society was sky-high unemployment rates due to robots replacing human workers.
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops III Drones and Combat robots are mentioned to be replacing Human infantry for the most part. However it is also mentioned while stronger and faster, most robots have slower reaction times than humans which alongside the Warfare Regression brought on by the DEAD System means humans still their place on the battlefield alongside Cyborg Super Soldiers who are forming a middle ground between normal humans and robots.
  • Batman: Arkham Knight has The Riddler builds an army of robots and has them replace his old goons with Riddlerbots doing most of their former jobs including placing Riddler Trophies and setting up challenges Batman needs to complete to obtain said trophies. Enemy Chatter shows most of the thugs are pissed about being without getting a severance package and even consider trying to unionize. Riddler still has the usual informants to be interrogated and the Catwoman's Revenge DLC show a group of thugs guarding the Robot Factory but once again Enemy Chatter makes it clear they hate the robots too. One thug even proposes destroying the factory for revenge before being reminded the factory contains the supercomputer allowing them to be paid (As Riddler was still in police custody at the time.)
  • Hollow Knight has the Stag, a giant beetle who takes great pride in his job as Hallownest's main means of transportation. He's generally a really friendly guy, unless he notices his current favorite customer (the Player Character, of course) got his hands on a tramway pass. He suddenly gets grumpy and tries to get the Knight to swear to never use the "grotesque contraption".
  • Not robots, but a similar idea in Bioshock 2: Its revealed that one of the first pebbles in the rockslide that was Rapture's descent into chaos was the public railroad that once connected the city getting upstaged by Frank Fontaine's personal bathysphere system, causing it to go bankrupt. Andrew Ryan and his inner circle had really heavily invested in the railroad, never considering that one of their investments might go sour, and Ryan forced a bank bailout to save the company, his power base, and their fortunes... at the cost of everyone else's savings. Rapture's economy was sent into a downward spiral that just got worse and worse, beginning the conflicts that would eventually blow up into civil war.
  • Kingdom of Loathing parodies this with the description of the gingerbread welder robot, by having the robots be the ones who are out of work and need to crime to make ends meet.
    This city used to be great, but then most of the factory jobs got taken over by robots like this one.

    Then the factories all closed, and the robots had to turn to crime. Like assault, for instance, which this one is committing right now.
  • An e-mail in Five Nights at Freddy's: Security Breach mentions a manager who fired an employee who refused to serve a customer a meal they didn't have on the menu (it's a pizza place, but the customer ordered chicken alfredo) and replaced him with a S.T.A.F.F. bot. However, because the customer's order wasn't on the menu, the robot didn't know how to prepare it. The manager was promptly fired for wrongful termination. That is just one of many flimsy excuses Fazbear Entertainment used to fire humans in order to replace them with S.T.A.F.F. bots. This is why Vanessa is the only human guard on the night shift, despite how huge the PizzaPlex is.
  • Jade Empire, being set in a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Imperial China, doesn't have robots, but the golems serve an equivalent purpose. Some of the Lotus Assassin acolytes fear that the rise of the golem army will result in fewer opportunities for the Assassins to serve. They resent the Spirit Monk, who is infiltrating the Assassins, for robbing them of their glory, and a few acolytes try to kill the Spirit Monk, who has killed multiple Lotus Assassins by this point.
  • In Dishonored 2, brilliant and amoral inventor Kirin Jindosh has devised Mecha-Mooks called the Jindosh Clockwork Soldiers. While prohibitively expensive to manufacture (only a handful of units exist for his own use and various well-paying nobles) and prone to deadly glitches, members of the Karnaca Grand Guard are worried that the machines might eventually replace them, though the officers are confident that a mechanical army will still need human commanders. The servants at Jindosh's mansion also grumble he'll most likely devise domestic clockworks at some point to render their employment superfluous.

  • Inverted in Warbot in Accounting: the titular warbot is a refrigerator-sized hunk of metal with a single crushing claw, meaning he is stunningly bad at typing, handling delicate objects, etc.
  • Subverted in this Biter Comics strip. A man bemoans to his wife that he was just laid off and replaced with a robot, and even managed to get a picture of the robot replacing him before he was evicted from the building. the picture is of an ordinary guy, who must secretly be a robot because he can do "inhuman" things like "perform his job competently, without being drunk or hungover all the time".
  • Girl Genius: Played for Laughs with the dingbots, Agatha's little helper-clanks. When they start acting on their own without input from any of the scientists, the Mad Scientists of the world start getting worried.
    Mittelmind: They are building! Designing!
    Diaz: Spitting in the face of the creator!
    Mezzasalma: Warping science!
    Mittelmind: They're taking our JOBS!
  • Played for Laughs in Honkai Impact 3rd: Second Eruption. While Welt, Siegfried and Theresa continue investigating the origin of the Babylon incident with the Oath of Judah's tracking function, Einstein is ordered to help Squad Snowwolf defend the Tower from an incoming Honkai horde. She does so by deploying multiple Eins auto-drones which easily fend off the Honkai Beasts by themselves, much to Salome's displeasure. Shub-Niggurath, for her part, is elated that she can just slack off, which only further annoys Salome.
    Salome: [Pointing at Shub-Niggurath] Stop fooling around, stupid goat! We're tasked with defending the perimeter! We can't let any of these beasts get through!
    Shub-Niggurath: What you said may be true... but our allies are doing most of the heavy lifting for us. We can just sit back and relax, right?
    Salome: Grr! That's exactly why I'm angry! (They took our jobs!)
    Einstein: This is more boring than I thought.
  • In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, a despondent Coney submitted to the procedure that turned him into a Living Ship after losing his office job to a robot, eons ago on a distant planet.

    Web Original 
  • Red vs. Blue: 479er is clearly feeling very threatened by Delta, but calms down quickly when she discovers that he can't fly. Also, while not replacing her on the team or driving anyone out of the unit, Tex quickly takes Carolina's spot at the top of the Freelancer leaderboard. How much Carolina knew about Tex's artificial nature is not clear.
  • mentions this in some of its demotivators:
    • Motivation: If a pretty poster and a cute saying are all it takes to motivate you, you probably have a very easy job. The kind robots will be doing soon.
    • Adaptation: The bad news is robots can do your job now. The good news is we're now hiring robot repair technicians. The worse news is we're working on robot-fixing robots—and we do not anticipate any further good news.
  • This is a recurring theme in early Occupy Richie Rich posts, as a consequence of the Crapsack World the Rich family live in.
  • A fantastic variation is discussed in Plumbing the Death Star. One of the problems with Elsa's ice cream business in "Who's the Best Disney Business Princess?" is that it would create zero jobs, since she can create ice golems to do any labor she needs without paying them a single dime. This would only get worse if she fired or laid off any of the golems, since they would flood the market with free labor that no human could compete with.

    Western Animation 
  • In an episode of Superfriends, Professor Goodfellow invents Goodfellow's Effort-Eliminating Computer (G.E.E.C.) and offers it free to the world to relieve the people of physical labor and mental activity. After only a month the world has started to grow soft. Then a mouse gets into the G.E.E.C. and begins wreaking havoc.
  • Batman: The Brave and the Bold: "Plague of the Prototypes" has Batman assisted in his never-ending fight against evil with a small army of Bat-Bots, but things go wrong when the mob boss Black Mask has the Bots hacked and reprogrammed to aid his gang, the False Face Society, with their plot to Take Over the City. Throughout the episode, the Bat-Bots prove so much stronger, more durable, and better at following orders than the False Face Society that Black Mask decides to have his human henchmen executed because the Bat-Bots have made them superfluous.
  • In the Darkwing Duck episode "Star-Crossed Circuits", Launchpad isn't pleased with the D-2000, feeling that there's nothing he can do as Darkwing's sidekick that it can't (and won't) do as well. In fact, he can't even do any household chores. Darkwing's disenchantment with the device begins when it starts doing too much of his crime-fighting for him.
  • DuckTales (1987):
    • In the episode "Armstrong", the titular robot quickly puts Launchpad and most of Scrooge's other employees out of a job... until he goes crazy and takes over Scrooge's money bin. However, the triplets bring in Launchpad, and Armstrong is stopped.
    • This actually gets subverted in the very next episode, "Robot Robbers". Scrooge castigates Gyro for building giant construction machines for Flintheart Glomgold, thinking they are robots like Armstrong. Gyro points out these machines are actually run by a worker inside the "head". Which becomes a problem when the Beagle Boys steal them to try and break into Scrooge's money bin.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Mr. Burns has twice tried to replace all the workers at SNPP with robots. The first time is in "Last Exit to Springfield", in a fantasy sequence during a strike, and the robots run amok. The second time, in "Them, Robot", Burns fires everyone (except Homer) and replaces them with robots, which eventually (thanks to Homer) run amok. This time, the unemployed and underemployed former SNPP workers come to Burns' rescue, and he rehires them all.
    • In "Bart Gets an Elephant", Bill and Marty (the radio DJs) are threatened to be replaced by a wisecracking computer if they don't make good on the promise of an elephant for Bart.
    • The eulogy for Asa Phelps in "Curse of the Flying Hellfish" says that "He worked at the United Strut and Bracing Works as a molder’s boy, until he was replaced by a molder-matic and died."
    • Bizarrely subverted in "Maximum Homerdrive", in which computer-driven long-haul trucks don't put the truckers out of work because the technology is owned by the truckers' union. They all (inexplicably) keep it a secret and pretend to still drive the trucks as normal.
  • Played with in in the South Park episode "White People Renovating Houses" when the "DEY TERK ER JERBS!" rednecks blame smart speakers such as Alexa for them not having jobs, so the townspeople hire them as in-home personal assistants.
  • An episode of The Lampies has a robot brought in to do everyone inside the lamps' jobs (including counting down the precise time to light up time and then turning on the lamps). He is soon taken out of commission after he activates the sprinklers and fries himself.
  • There's an episode of Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi when robots replaced the girls as rock stars. Thankfully, they get their positions back.
  • The Futurama episode "Obsoletely Fabulous" features Bender upset about being replaced by a better robot.
  • In an episode of The New Fred & Barney Show, Fred's new robotic butler does such a good job at the quarry that Fred is no longer needed there. However, the robot doesn't need the money he's earning either, so he gives it all back to Fred, much to Fred's delight. Barney then decides to buy a robot to work for him, too, except it's a female robot, and both robots then proceed to elope. Fred and Barney, now broke, have no choice but to keep working at the quarry, disguised as robots to fool their boss (who therefore expects them to work more efficiently than a human...)
  • The TaleSpin episode "From Here to Machinery" featured robot pilots putting the regular cargo fliers out of business. The robot was ultimately revealed to have a critical flaw of only ever flying in a straight line, rendering it easy prey for air pirates.
  • Subverted in Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles: C.H.A.S. is presented as a hyper-competent Automaton, that can do the job of any trooper better than they can (much to their annoyance). After his Heroic Sacrifice to save Higgens, the impressed company consider him a fellow trooper. Then it turns out the government decided that robots like C.H.A.S. were not cost-effective.
  • In the Regular Show episode "K.I.L.L.I.T. Radio", the titular radio station was gradually taken over by an automated system until only one human employee is left - the station's former top DJ, now reduced to providing maintenance on the machines.
  • The Academy Award-nominated short Technological Threat is about an office of cartoon dogs where the workers are replaced one by one (including the boss!) by nerdy-looking robots with literal pencil necks. Eventually, only one dog worker is left, who plots to rid the office of the robots.
  • In Transformers: Animated, some of the citizens of Detroit have this feeling towards the machines created by Isaac Sumdac.
  • Stunt Dawgs: In one episode, Fungus orders Whiz Kid to build a stunt robot that steals the Stunt Dawgs' jobs. The stunt robot is so good that Fungus decides to fire the Stunt Scabs except for Whiz Kid, who'll be needed whenever the stunt robot needs repairs.
  • Played for Laughs in Littlest Pet Shop (2012): Fisher Biskit, head of the Largest Ever Pet Shop, casually replaces a sleeping janitor with a Monban robot. His daughters then take his example and replace the entire board of directors with more Monbans.
  • Metalocalypse: While Pickles the Drummer is sent to rehab, he's replaced by a drum machine. It initially proves itself to be a superior replacement without the drinking problems, but the fame of being a rockstar somehow affects the machine and it develops addictions of its own. By the time Pickles is released from rehab, the machine has gone psychotic and the drummer must save his bandmates from the drum machine.
  • The House of Mouse episode "House of Genius" has Ludwig Von Drake replacing Mickey and his friends with robotic versions of themselves to increase efficiency (including a Donald robot that speaks coherently). However, the audience decides that they prefer the old workers.
  • Inch High, Private Eye. In "Super Flea", the invention and subsequent theft of a Literal Surveillance Bug puts Inch High in a dilemma; if he doesn't find the mechanical flea, his boss will fire him, but if he does Inch High will become obsolete!
  • The Inspector has the episode "Les Miserobots", in which the Inspector is replaced by robot cop who is so efficient, it ends up taking the Commissioner's job by the end!
  • In the Star Trek: Lower Decks episode "The Stars at Night", Admiral Buenamigo proposes that the California class be retired in favor of his new fully automated Texas class. The claim is that the new AI ships can do the job of the Californias in a fraction of the time. Except it turns out that the AI ships make a crucial mistake related to the Prime Directive, and a major flaw is discovered in their programming that results in them turning against Buenamigo and Starfleet. All three completed AI ships (Aledo, Dallas, and Corpus Christi) are destroyed by the end of the episode, ironically by the same California-class ships they were meant to replace.

  • Aristotle contended that the institution of slavery would be necessary to civilization's survival until a day when machines and other tools (such as musical instruments) could operate themselves. That day has come. He thought it would never happen, since the idea seemed absurd.
  • There's a joke about a guy who's laid off, as his boss tells him they've just bought a new robot that does everything he does, but better. The guy goes home and tells his wife... who goes and buys the same model of robot.
  • French comedian Coluche had a skit about being laid off and replaced with a machine.
    It does it as well as we did, if not better. Also, the machine doesn't need pay, doesn't need rest, doesn't need vacation, is never ill, and worst of all, doesn't even need a job!
  • There is an apocryphal story of a meeting between a UAW (United Auto Workers) boss and an automotive executive. The executive brags about his new welding robots, telling the union boss "They won't pay union dues." The union boss responds with "They won't buy cars, either."

    Real Life 
  • A common argument against this trope is calling concerns about automation an example of the "Luddite fallacy" which says that even though a machine can do more work than a person, it doesn't mean that the company will employ fewer people—instead, the company may just produce more product for the same number of employees.
    "If the Luddite fallacy were true we would all be out of work because productivity has been increasing for two centuries."
    Alex Tabarrok, Economist
  • The original Luddites are actually more complicated than this sounds; traditional weaving was a cottage industry for highly skilled craftsmen that made decent money, but the jobs at the factories that replaced them were highly dangerous and paid starvation wages because anyone off the street could do them. Plus safety standards were non-existent and many of the people working in the factories were children.
  • Karl Marx saw the increasing automation of labor in his time and realized this might screw over a lot of workers. He came up with the ideas that would collectively be known as Marxism partly in an attempt to figure out how to accomodate these people once they were no longer needed. A large part of why past Marxist revolutions did not work out so well in practice was because the people spearheading them didn't wait for labor to be unnecessary due to automation.
  • Ryan Avent of The Economist and others argue that the Luddite Fallacy is no longer relevant in the digital age. According to them, the Digital Revolution is proving far more disruptive to the job market than the two Industrial Revolutions, by replacing not merely physical, but also routine cognitive labor as well, obsoleting the need for the bulk of office and customer service jobs, effectively leaving the need for humans only at those positions where innovative thought is required constantly. See here for links: Ryan Avent of The Economist, Martin Ford, C.G.P. Grey, The Gartner Group, and Jaron Lanier
  • Walt Disney Studios was in financial straits after Sleeping Beauty didn't make its cost back, so Ub Iwerks adapted the xerography process to eliminate hand-inking. This led to the elimination of the Disney inking department.
  • When Steven Spielberg started on Jurassic Park, he hired Tippett Studio to provide stop-motion effects for the film. However, Spielberg later saw a test with CGI dinosaurs and was so impressed with how realistic they looked that he decided to use CGI instead of stop-motion. However, Tippett Studio's expertise at animating dinosaurs was still valuable and so a system was created where their stop-motion experience could be applied to the CGI models. Tippett Studio has specialized in CGI ever since.
  • Hand-painted movie posters have fallen by the wayside in favor of Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, and similar photomanipulation and computer art tools. Savvy artists have simply applied their expertise to the new medium and modified the programs to fit their needs.
  • The advancement of A.I.-Generated Artwork has sparked fears of automation of the creative industry, as a number of digital artists have feared their work may become devalued in favor of art-generating algorithms. Further adding to the controversy is the revelation that these Generated Images are built on stolen and copyrighted artwork, often intentionally by the creators and proponents of AI Generation and without consent or permission from the artists they were taken, effectively treating artists as little more than resources to be stolen from, all the while reselling a competing product using their stolen work against them while claiming ownership and creation of said artpiece.
  • According to a 2013 study, 47% of all jobs in the U.S. are at "high risk" of being automated by 2033.
  • Some people in favor of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) cite the inevitability of this trope as a reason it should be implemented. If the robots are going to steal all the jobs, people won't be able to make any money, so give them a reasonable monthly living wage and let them spend/earn extra on part-time work. This was a large part of Democratic Candidate Andrew Andrew Yang platform for the U.S. 2020 Presidential Primary.
    • Related to UBI, some welfare advocates suggest going a step further with a "robot tax" - even Microsoft founder Bill Gates favours one - to fund welfare programs that help displaced workers like job training, government-funded healthcare and the aforementioned UBI.
  • Arguably, this trope is a large part of the reason that there has been so little human space exploration since the 1970s. When it comes to conducting scientific research, there's essentially nothing that a human astronaut could do on Mars that couldn't be done by a rover (except repairing the rover should it break). Sending human astronauts is just more expensive, since they require life support, food, a return mission, etc.
    • The same is true for work on Earth that has to be performed underground or underwater, where conditions are likewise vastly more suited to robotic equipment than humans.
  • Along the evolution of mores toward more sexual liberalism, the invention of washing machines helped to close in Ireland the Magdalene Laundries, where "fallen women" were locked in, sometimes for life; machines were more competitive and cheaper than human work, even from forced laborers.
  • Commercial camera-drones have largely ended the use of manned helicopters in low-altitude aerial photography for traffic reports, land surveying, wildlife observation, etc.
  • The threat of Large Language Models like ChatGPT Job-Stealing Robot taking their jobs is a major grievance in the 2023 Hollywood writer's strike.
  • In recent times, this trope is often used to invoke how would the "robot apocalypse" scenario actually happen rather than a Robot War where humanity loses. What happens is that the greedy rich would outsource countless jobs, be it mundane or innovative, to something that effectively would never complain about poor working conditions or pay. Meanwhile, instead of living like kings, most of humanity would be left jobless with little to no compensation and will be trapped as NEETs. By the time humanity has been reduced to farm animals, the wealthy who started all this would have died living full lives of extravagance while the average man is forever trapped dealing with fulfilling daily needs, dooming humanity to a sci-fi dystopia.

They took our jobs! (DEY TERK ER JERBS!)


Video Example(s):


Robots Taking Over the Ocean

Beef has a dream that robots are fishing the ocean and he's working for them in a factory, where the workers aren't allowed to have bathroom breaks so they all wear diapers.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / NightmareSequence

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