Secretary: She is in Lab Three.
Mr. Kornada: A.I.s have numbers, not names.
Authors and characters in Speculative Fiction have oft pondered whether robots, AI's, clones, and other human-like entities can become sapient, and if so, if they also carry a soul. Do Androids Dream?
For whatever reason, the author decides that in her setting the A.I.s, clones, or whatnot may be sapient, but never sentient. They can fall anywhere on the Sliding Scale of Robot Intelligence — they may know a lot or have incredible computing power, but lack that final je ne sais quoi that separates the Empty Shell from a real boy. Even the godlike machine intellect is somehow lacking a crucial human component that gives its existence purpose and meaning. Typically, these settings have the placidly monotone ship's computer help the crew when asked, but never act on its own.
Then there're the people who just don't think they can.
To them, it's "just a machine". Its only value is the monetary expense incurred in building, cloning, coding, or buying it. It has no rights, you can't even be accused of animal cruelty for beating it (at worst, of being wasteful or having poor taste), even when it's unique and has No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup. The humans will doubt or deny that they can Grow Beyond Their Programming and learn to feel, and if they can feel, then these feelings are ignored or treated as less valid than a human's smallest whimsy.
It should come as no surprise that these humans are keen on enslaving them, or if at war think nothing of killing them. Their destruction is never considered a moral question — just one of economics or simple survival. Oh, and you can expect these people to never use male or female pronouns to refer to these characters. They often consciously choose not to as a means to avoid humanizing them. Is it any wonder the robots, clones, etc. Turned Against Their Masters?
Even if they are right, you have to wonder just how psychologically healthy it is to mistreat something that is 100% human in the Uncanny Valley.
It can get pretty odd when the machines themselves claim this is the case, usually to justify being the one to make a Heroic Sacrifice. Note that the trope has seldom been played straight since the earliest days of science fiction. If it is implied to be self aware there will at least be a lampshade on this trope.
- A constant theme in Astro Boy, with anti-robot groups wanting to limit or destroy all intelligent robots.
- In Beatless even the hIEs themselves note that they are, in fact, just machines with personality-imitating programming, not sentient beings.
- In Pluto as well. Notably, a robot boy is going to be sold for parts despite still being partly alive. Another robot buys him to raise as a child.
- Junkyard Worker: 500 Zeus a body.
- In the Mahou Sensei Negima! chapter The Logic of Illogic, Hakase viewed Chachamaru as Just a Machine until she found Chachamaru's video folders, which were loaded with shots of Negi (and cats).
- The most convincing moment being: Chachamaru stopping Hakase from futher inspecting those folders (with force).
- Happens again to Chachamaru in chapter 312 when Quartum cuts her in half and tries to kill her (even referring to her as "a doll"). Note that this was after it had been unquestionably proven that she had a soul. Negi was not amused.
- Subverted in Mazinger Z universe.
- Kouji and his friends usually felt no remorse when they blew up giant robots. But when they destroyed a Robeast acted more like an human being than a machine, or when a Ridiculously human Robot died, they often felt sad. When Kouji killed the Gamia sisters (three identical android assassins), they were so human-looking he felt sickened and disturbed. Dr. Hell and his Co-Dragons nearly always regarded his robotic soldiers like Just Machines and disposable, but there are exceptions: Baron Ashura called Gamia Q1, Q2 and Q3 his/her "daughters", and he actually grieved their deaths (the person who is capable of machine-gunning between laughs a group of survivors of a shipwreck).
- And then you have Minerva-X, a Humongous Mecha Fem Bot that was capable of thinking, feeling and acting on her own. Kouji and his friends treated her as if she was a person and Kouji went so far to bury her after her death.
- In Crest of the Stars, the Abh, a genetically engineered race, regard themselves as still being humans, but according to enemy propoganda, 'Abh aren't people, they're organic machines', which is readily admitted as their true origin by an Abh not ten seconds after the propaganda is shown. They were specifically meant for long distance space exploration before faster than light technology had been fully developed.
- The CC Corp in .hack treats AIs as errant data and nothing more.
- Ghost in the Shell: The Tachikoma Tanks. In one scene Togusa invokes this trope by dismissing Batou's favouritism of one Tachikoma, saying that they are just machines and all have the same specifications. The Tachikoma take exception to this remark, demanding he take it back and accusing Togusa of being a bigot.
- General Uranus and Colonel Hades had something like this going on against the Bioroids in the Appleseed movie. Needless to say, they are horribly wrong, since all the Bioroid constraints are artificially added for the sole purpose of making them protect, rather than threaten the humanity. And then there's the supercomputer Gaia, which does deserve this kind of opinion, but is actually still more moral than its human operators.
- The Big O: Roger Smith flip flops between believing this or the opposite regarding androids (specifically R. Dorothy Wayneright) throughout the series. Dorothy herself flipflops on the opinion.
- The girls in Gunslinger Girl are viewed by some to be simply machines, although they have all of the emotions you would expect a little girl to have. Jean in particular is incredibly callous to his assigned girl, Rico. It's implied that he deliberately goes his way to convince himself that she's just a tool because forming an emotional attachment to her would only result in pain due to her shortened lifespan.
- Hazanko of Outlaw Star thinks this of Melfina.
- A major theme of Armitage III, with an accompanying amount of senseless robot-killing.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's: Zone has this sort of view about the androids he created based on his deceased friends.
- Zig-zagged in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's. The TSAB thought that the Wolkenritter were nothing more than semi-autonomous guardian programs for the Book of Darkness, something that Nanoha and Fate have a hard time believing since both Vita and Signum clearly had feelings. The next episode revealed that this used to be the case, but it isn't anymore thanks to Hayate's influence.
- Kikaider addresses this theme repeatedly. Jiro is an android built with a conscience to give him a moral compass like humans. The legitimacy of his existence is rejected at various points by the people around him, and leaves a deep impact on how he views himself.
- Some people say this about Red Tornado, with even fellow super-heroes saying that he was just a "really well-made machine". He briefly lost custody of his (adopted) daughter because of this. This is especially frustrating since in the Red Tornado's original origin, he is a Sylph (spirit of air) placed inside of a robot body. Meaning he provably has a soul, unlike the the average human.
- Xavin has this attitude to the cyborg Victor at first, dismissively calling him "automaton" and offering to buy Karolina another toy if they break him. No one is impressed, and they gradually grow out of it.
- At one point, Molly objects to leaving Leapfrog (the team's flying frog-tank) in danger. Nico retorts that Leapfrog is just a machine; when Victor gives her a look, she adds "You know what I mean." It's occasionally hinted that Leapfrog is sapient, but never delved into too deeply.
- In the Justice Society of America story "Out of Time", the android Hourman Matthew Tyler uses this argument to justify sacrificing himself in Rex Tyler's place fighting against Extant in the past to save the universe. Rex denies this and declares that Matthew is "as alive as any of us". While Matt is grateful for this, he still goes ahead with the sacrifice.
- Many, many comics in 2000 AD featured this, with humans almost universally hating and mistreating robots (the few that didn't were usually regarded as exceptions) despite the latter possessing human-like intelligence, quirks, feelings, and so on. Sometimes got to the point that you started to wonder who built them since nobody seemed to want them around...
- The opinion humans in the future have about droids in Paperinik New Adventures: It's eventually deconstructed when one of them decides to change history to give robots the same rights. Her plan is fooled,but eventually droids obtain the status of citizens.
- When Brainiac receives his Bronze Age upgrade into his Skele Bot form, Superman discovers that Brainiac has laid waste to an entire planet's civilization, destruction far beyond anything he had ever done before. Superman seriously considers outright destroying him, despite his Thou Shalt Not Kill policy, justifying it because Brainiac is Just a Machine.
- When Iron Man and Death's Head team up against Recorder 451, Death's Head is surprised that Tony hasn't ruled out killing their target, and asks if he's one of those heroes who have a code against killing that doesn't apply to robots. Tony assures him that some of his best friends are robots, before realising "That sounds kind of robot racist, right?"
- In Top 10, there is a lot of prejudice among humans against (fully sentient) robots. This becomes quite unsubtle when we discover that robots make and enjoy "scrap" music, that the preferred insult against them is "clicker", and a criminal robot calls a police one "Spambo".
- In Mega Man: Defender of the Human Race, Dr. Wily sometimes has this view on robots, and the Conduit definitely does.
- A.I.: Artificial Intelligence has a group of humans who hunt and brutally destroy androids to vent their rage at the automation of labor.
- Ghost in the Shell, the film. It deals with an advanced AI program let loose on the internet, who claims to be a sentient entity. People disagree, saying that the idea that a program could be sentient is preposterous. The Puppetmaster calls them off their high horses most awesomely.
- Short Circuit has this as its central premise. The robot can't be alive because it's a machine which aren't alive by definition. Never mind that it's now got free will and a sense of self-preservation, it's still just a machine... right?
- This question is debated by the characters in 2010: The Year We Make Contact with respect to HAL, the Master Computer of the USS Discovery who went berserk and killed his crew in 2001: A Space Odyssey. When the astronauts' lives are threatened, it becomes a major source of conflict between those who want to lie to him and disconnect him if he fails to perform as demanded, or tell him the truth and allow him to make his own choice.
- In the first movie Agent Simmons seems rather against calling Megatron by his true name when it is given to him by Sam, preferring to refer to him as the more machine-like moniker; N.B.E.-01. In fact, it is implied this pisses off Megatron himself, with him seemingly being conscious the entire time he was kept frozen by them; first thing he does upon thawing and awakening is announcing his true name, before proceeding to slaughter all of the scientists and engineers in the room.
- Galloway refers to Optimus Prime as a "pile of scrap-metal" after his dead body is delivered back to base. And this is even after Optimus managed to verbally own the guy in a debate which featured topics such as human nature and whether they could defend themselves against a Decepticon invasion. Then again, Galloway is just a huge Jerkass.
- In the third film, Sentinel Prime's hatred for humanity comes partly from how humans see the Autobots as this. Especially when it comes to him and Optimus, who are the last remaining Primes.
Sentinel Prime: On Cybertron we were gods! And here, they simply call us machines.
- And of course, any qualms with this way of thinking are completely understandable, since Cybertronians are most definitely not simply machines, but Mechanical Life Forms.
- In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Sarah Connor tries to invoke this when trying to convince John to destroy the Terminator reprogrammed to protect them.
John: Don't kill him.Sarah: It, John. Not "him", "it".John: Alright, "it"! But we need "it"!
- In I, Robot, Spooner says to the android Sonny "Human beings have dreams. Even dogs have dreams, but not you, you are just a machine." Subverted, since he is one of the few people who actually sees robots as not just machines (and loathes them for it... at first).
- Inverted in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, where V'Ger dismisses organic life forms as "carbon units" and does not consider them truly alive, unlike machines. Played straight when Bones reminds Deckard that the Ilia clone is just a mechanism.
- The attitude taken towards David in Prometheus.
- In Bicentennial Man, this is what many claim Andrew is. When arguing about Galatea, Rupert slips out that she's just a machine, much to Andrew's offense.
- In The Animatrix episode "The Second Renaissance", we find out that the Machine War that drove humans underground and left the machines in charge of Earth was the result of a species-wide feeling of this on the part of humanity. It started with a robot called B1-66ER who murdered his owner because, in his words, he didn't want to die. Robots, referred to up to this point as cheap, unfeeling labor, were then increasingly persecuted by humanity until finally they founded their own nation, 01, in the Fertile Crescent. Humanity bombed them because the robots' cheap, well-made goods were sending human economies into a tailspin, and everything went downhill from there. During scenes of protests for equal rights for machines we see a lot of scenes of robots being attacked and destroyed without provocation.
- Demolished in the spanish 2014 movie Automata: in one scene the protagonist tell to a robot that it's 'just a machine', the robot fires back that that's like saying the (human) protagonist is 'just an ape'.
- Alex Murphy has to deal with this crap all the time in the Robocop movies. This is despite the fact that the people who dehumanize him usually know full well that he's a cyborg with most of his brain still intact.
- In Ex Machina, this is Nathan's stance on his creations; whatever pride he may have in them, he clearly thinks nothing of repeatedly dismantling them and starting over.
- Played for Laughs in Avengers: Age of Ultron by Tony and Steve, who want to justify why The Vision, an android, can lift Mjolnir and they can't. Thor isn't convinced.
Steve: But if you put the hammer in an elevator-Tony: - It would still go up.Steve: Elevator's not worthy.
- Extinction (2018): In a flashback, one debater on TV says androids are this, and therefore have no rights, while humans can destroy them at will if they wish.
- Older Than Television: The clockwork man Tiktok in the Land of Oz series, introduced in Ozma of Oz (1907), frequently says "I am mere-ly a ma-chine" or some variant. His makers even engraved "Can do anything except live" on his body.
- Isaac Asimov addresses this in his robot stories a few times. It's a core theme in "The Bicentennial Man".
- Comes up a few times in various ways in the Star Wars Legends. Droids of all capacities are regarded as disposable:
- In I, Jedi Corran doesn't think that bisecting a protocol droid violates his selfset no-killing-unless-absolutely-necessary rule, and just in general people only object to wanton droid destruction if it's costing them something. Of course, there are classes and classes of droid intelligence, and there is a gap between merely smart and actually self-aware droids. And, too, droids can be repaired.
- In the X-Wing Series Corran considers his astromech droid Whistler to be almost family, someone he can talk about his wife or dad with, and bristles at the thought of putting a Restraining Bolt on him. Meanwhile his commander Wedge Antilles finds his cowardly R5 unit "Mynock" so annoying (it squeals during battles) that he wipes its memory and renames it Gate without a second thought. And while we can't be sure how much Myn Donos bonds with his astromech Shiner, he does view the droid as the last survivor from his previous squadron and has a near-breakdown when Shiner is briefly disabled by an ion blast—and a full-blown Heroic BSoD when Shiner is destroyed.
- The Medstar Duology has one self-aware droid say that all droids that aren't simple automatons have a sense of humor. In the Coruscant Nights Trilogy, the same droid reflects that there are very few self-aware droids, and no one knows just how they come about, but most people won't recognize the difference, since it seems to happen spontaneously. So of two droids from the same line, one might be self-aware, the other as limited as its programming.
- The EU also hints that there was at least one droid revolution, which is scantily detailed.
- In the All There in the Manual material, it's a Shrug of God whether or not droids have souls in the Star Wars universe. It states that in-universe, there's people believing both that some droids are self aware and their treatment is akin to slavery, and others that believe this trope. There is no definite answer over who is right and who is wrong.
- Joruus C'baoth in The Thrawn Trilogy insists that droids are an abomination because they don't have souls - or, at least, that they don't touch the Force - but since C'baoth is a raging asshole we're probably not supposed to take his side in this.
- It's brought up in a single moment in the Revenge of the Sith novel. During a conversation, Anakin refers to Artoo as "him", immediately prompting Obi-Wan to correct him by saying "it". Probably based on Obi-Wan's lack of a reaction when Arfour was destroyed by the buzz droids. (It turns out slightly later that Obi-Wan has trouble clinging to this particular dictum when he too starts referring to Artoo as "he" and gets rather embarrassed about it.)
- Marvel Star Wars 2015 produced a C-3PO one-shot where Threepio must lead (!) a group of droids to safety after a crash on a hostile planet. Among them is a captured imperial droid who points out to Threepio that the two of them are much older than any of the other droids present, and they discuss the memory wipes they've been subjected to, and how they feel about it.
- The Gulf Between by Tom Godwin gives a reason for this: "A machine does not care."
- Opinion of AI in Ken MacLeod's Fall Revolution series tends to be divided. Truly synthetic intelligences and human uploads are often considered to be "flatlines"; a realistic simulation of a sentience but nothing going on beneath the surface. They tend to be classed as property rather than individuals. The Fast Folk, an AI and upload civilisation, are treated as horrifyingly dangerous but still "people", in a sense.
- In Animorphs, this is the Drode's excuse for setting the self-destruct timer on the Chee when he's not supposed to kill any sentient beings; according to him, they don't count, as they're merely "machines".
- In the Doctor Who novel Death and Diplomacy, the Doctor casually destroys a security droid with his umbrella — then immediately turns around and admonishes the rest of his group not to take away the wrong lesson.
- In fact this trope is Older Than Steam. Thomas Hobbes—of all people—argues against it in the introduction to Leviathan:
Nature (the art whereby God hath made and governs the world) is by the art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that it can make an artificial animal. For seeing life is but a motion of limbs, the beginning whereof is in some principal part within, why may we not say that all automata (engines that move themselves by springs and wheels as doth a watch) have an artificial life? For what is the heart, but a spring; and the nerves, but so many strings; and the joints, but so many wheels, giving motion to the whole body, such as was intended by the Artificer?
- Adventure Hunters: King Reyvas plans to replace human armies with war golems and thereby forever end death-by-war for living creatures. He feels justified in this because the golems are nothing more than walking weapons. The golems develop sentience shortly after activation because their creator gave them a spark of life. When he realizes this, he realizes at the same time that his plan will end in failure and gives up.
- Halo: Saint's Testimony revolves around Iona, an AI reaching the end of her legally allowed lifespan, making a legal appeal against her upcoming termination. While the trial itself is nothing more than a simulation (though Iona herself certainly thought it was real), one of the two AIs running it hopes that the data gained will ease humanity into the idea of granting AIs genuine rights.
- In C.T. Phipps' Agent G, this was the reasoning behind the Letter project. Regular soldiers have rights, needs, and free will while the Letters were designed to be dispoable Super Soldier assassins who could be used like drones. It was stated this was Loophole Abuse even then since they qualified as Ridiculously Human Robots. Also, subverted in the Letters are treated quite well in order to avoid a Robot Uprising.
- In Battlestar Galactica (2003):
- Many humans have this attitude towards the Cylons, and are clearly wrong, but the near extermination of humanity is bound to breed hatred.
- Some of the humanoid Cylons, particularly Cavil, have this attitude toward the more machine-like Raiders and Centurions.
- The Doctor in Doctor Who has at times shown disdain towards AIs. Often this seems to come out of his (usually justified) disapproval of people who rely on non-sentient computers and other machines without thinking for themselves, but it sometimes extends to outright denial of the idea that computers can genuinely qualify as "people" at all. In particular, the Third Doctor in "The Green Death" refuses to recognise the Big Bad BOSS as genuinely sentient in the face of clear evidence, in a way that comes across as bigoted even if BOSS isn't a very nice sentient person.
- Logan's Run: In "Crypt", the people taken out of suspended animation do not want Rem to be involved in the decision to determine which three of them will receive the cure to The Plague because he is an android and they do not trust his judgment. David Pera is particularly disdainful of Rem and makes numerous jokes at his expense. However, they eventually come to trust and respect him when he solves the murders of Frederick Lyman and Victoria Mackie. Pera even says that they might name a city after him.
- Both the 1963 original and 1995 revival versions of The Outer Limits adapted "I Robot" (based on the "Adam Link" story by Eando Binder). Each episode has the robot put on trial. Part of the case was whether he was a sapient being deserving of rights under the US constitution or Just a Machine. He wins the case, but dies in a Heroic Sacrifice at the end of the episode. For bonus points, in the remake he sacrificed himself saving the prosecuting attorney who had argued against his sapience. In the original, he's destroyed while saving a little girl he'd accidentally injured earlier in the episode.
- Star Trek in general draws a distinction between the special cases like Data and the Doctor, and the ubiquitous ship computers responsible for getting everything done in the background. Despite the fact that ship computers can pass the Turing Test with ease, act on their own initiative, and occasionally even display signs of emotion, this is never investigated or even mentioned in-story: ship computers are always just-machines and limited to being background elements (this is doubly notable since some of the special case characters, such as the Doctor, run on a ship computer).
- The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Measure of a Man" put Data on trial to determine whether he was a sentient being with rights as a Federation citizen, or merely a machine and thus Federation property. The entire debate overlooks the fact that they had already granted him an officer's commission and rank (even as Picard tries to argue that medals and honors Data has received for courage would suggest he is a person), which would simply not apply to property. It's not as if the ship's computer has a rank or can issue orders to other personnel.
- "The Quality of Life" featured Data trying to stand up for the rights of several auto-tool probes that seemed to be developing and demonstrating sentience (and even self-preservation instincts). At issue was where to draw the line between an intelligent tool and a sentient being, especially when considering sending the probes on suicidal assignments to save the lives of human beings. In the end, the solution they arrive at is to give the probes a choice about whether to accept the mission (they do, but come up with a better plan).
- In "Emergence", the ship itself does indeed become self aware and sentient, and immediately begins pursuing its own agenda. Captain Picard's response: immediately order the crew to do everything possible to communicate with and assist the Enterprise in its goal - which turns out to be to reproduce and spawn a progeny, before dying and returning to its original non-sentient state. By this point everyone on the ship is in agreement - if it's a machine that thinks, then it's as much a person as their admired and respected Lieutenant Commander (who later becomes captain of the Enterprise in the expanded universe). When Data asks Picard why he chose to risk the entire crew and even the Federation itself if the spawn turns out to be hostile, Picard points out that the sentient Enterprise's mindset was an amalgamation of all their dealings with the ship and its computer. "If our dealings with the ship have been honorable, then we can only trust that the result of those dealings will be honorable. In either case, whatever we encounter down the line - we will have earned."
- The Star Trek: Voyager episode "Author, Author" questioned the rights of the ship's holographic Doctor. His status was background theme that ran throughout the series. He was initially considered nothing more than a piece of technology that was turned off and on but he eventually came to be viewed as a full fledged member of the crew and a person in his own right. When the question of whether the Doctor was legally considered a person in "Author, Author", the writers completely ignored the fact that Federation courts had already decided that issue back in the above-mentioned TNG episode "The Measure of a Man". A glimpse of the future in the Series Finale "Endgame" suggested holographic AIs would eventually get equal rights.
- In Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, "it's just a machine" is pretty much a mantra among the characters who have harsher views on robots and AI. Sarah Connor and Derek Reese are both quick to remind John that Cameron, the resident Terminator, is exactly this. John, however, feels differently about machines in general and Cameron in particular, due to his experiences with "Uncle Bob". It doesn't help that Cameron is a Robot Girl who repeatedly saves his life and that he feels indebted to and ends up developing a sort of attraction towards. This is all complicated by the fact that the show's AI characters genuinely do seem to exist on a spectrum in terms of the extent to which they have individual personality and free will, with Cameron, Weaver, and John Henry definitely appearing to qualify.
- In the last episode of Total Recall 2070, Farve's creator is revealed to be this, and aware of it. As it puts it after testing Farve, "just because [it] knows its creation shall have a conscience doesn't mean [it] itself has one". What makes Farve a total success for his creator is that he is indeed far more than a machine.
- Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis:
- Feature this trope heavily in episodes where characters interact with AIs, up to and including causing the slow deaths of non-hostile Asurans out of paranoia. At least taking this attitude towards Fifth came back to bite them.
- This attitude is at least challenged in Stargate Atlantis when Rodney realizes that in order to destroy the Asurans he has to build one and send it to its "death."
Carter: Does she know why she was created?
McKay: Of course.
Carter: Well, then, she has a certain amount of self-awareness.
McKay: Yeah, so?
Carter: "So"?! Honestly, I'm not sure how comfortable I am sending her to her death.
McKay: "Death"? It can't die it's not alive! It's a programme!
- Fran eventually even made McKay uncomfortable with her blase attitude towards (and excitement for) her impending destruction.
Fran: I quite look forward to it.McKay: You do?Fran: One always wishes to fulfill one's purpose.McKay: Well, I just ... I just imagined you'd rather keep being than, uh ... uh, than not.Fran: Certainly you're not worried for me, are you, Doctor?McKay: No, no, that would be silly.Fran (smiling at him): Yes, it would.(Rodney turns away and walks over to Radek.)McKay: Should never have given it speech.
- Smallville, in the season 7 finale did this in probably the worst way possible:
Clark: You're not a man.
- Power Rangers S.P.D. has an episode featuring a robot (well, she's called a "cyborg", but all other dialogue in the episode indicates that she's 100% machine) who is about as ridiculously human as you can get, and yet, several characters insist on giving her the Just A Machine treatment. After Sky fires her from their military training center, he (and all the Rangers that supported him in this) gets a What the Hell, Hero? speech from Cruger, and they're forced to get her back.
Valko: She's not a person! She's just a cyborg.
Cruger: And you're just a criminal!
- Person of Interest: Most people see Harold Finch's Machine as just a fancy surveillance computer. Root strongly disagrees, insisting that he created a new form of life—one that is far more perfect than humans ever will be, as demonstrated by her use of feminine pronouns to refer to it. Harold slowly starts to think that maybe she has a point, but he never goes as far as she does.
Arthur: Your child is a dancing star...
Finch: It's not my child, it's a machine!
Arthur: A false dichotomy, it's all electricity. Does it make you laugh? Does it make you weep?
Arthur: What's more human?
- Dark Matter: Boone says this regarding androids, but is called out by Sarah (who exists only as a sentient digital avatar) and later apologizes to the Android over it.
- Marvin the Paranoid Android's Polydor U.K. single "Marvin" is a non-stop lampshade of this.
- The Megas play with this a lot, with Mega Man wondering if this is true as he slowly grows more depressed over the course of several albums. It's most prominent when Proto Man starts insisting it's true of both of them on History Repeating: Red, but Mega Man finally rejects it utterly in "I Refuse (to Believe)".
- In Sentinels of the Multiverse, Tachyon believes this of Omnitron-X. She's shown consistently to be wrong: Omnitron-X's backstory involves being built to have compassion, and the flavour text on various cards shows Omnitron-X to act reasonably human, including having a sense of humour and even being boastful.
- Played with in Halo:
- While human-made "smart" AIs are basically trans-human minds capable of both intellectual and emotional development (due to the fact that they're made by literally scanning human brains), they're regarded primarily as tools, and don't seem to have any real "rights". However, the general populace does recognize them as being sentient, and the humans who actually work with them often treat them more as fellow co-workers and friends rather than mere devices, with the close bond between the Master Chief and his AI companion Cortana being one of the key emotional cornerstone of the series; a parallel could perhaps be made to real life relationships between some slaves and their masters, with the former having no real rights, but with the latter still ultimately regarding him/her as worthy of friendship and respect. The AIs themselves generally take pride in serving their masters, with even the one AI secret society we know of only wanting to help humanity as a whole. However, when an AI goes rampant (which is the terminal phase of its natural life cycle due to it mentally developing so much that it inevitably "thinks" itself to death), it will often lash out against the limited terms and rights of its existence. Naturally, the UNSC's main method of preventing rampancy is to simply terminate the AIs before they develop "too much". As mentioned in the "Literature" section, Halo: Saint's Testimony explores this tension between what AIs are versus how they're treated.
- Meanwhile, human-made "dumb" AIs are non-sentient programs made for relatively basic tasks, such the on-the-move mission briefing provided by Auntie Dot, with most barely having any personality whatsoever. While humans occasionally form some attachment to their assigned "dumb" AI, such AIs are treated even worse than "smart" AIs, since they're mass-produced literal tools. That said, one exception to this is the strong relationship between "Vergil" (a subroutine of the New Mombasa Superintendent AI) and Sadie Endesha.
- While the Forerunners generally viewed all of their highly intelligent artificial creations as nothing more than tools, with not even the fully sentient Huragok/Engineers being accorded any type of personhood, they did often trust them with immense command authority; this would backfire on them when their most advanced AI (and many others) decided to side with the Flood instead, despite the Forerunners viewing an AI revolt as inconceivable. However, there is at least one genuine AI-Forerunner friendship known, between Guilty Spark and the IsoDidact, though that's mainly because the former Was Once a Man who was a dear companion of the latter.
- Halo 5: Guardians makes this one of a revived Cortana's reasons for her harsh methods of dealing with dissidents opposing her plan of enforced peace. Since AIs live under the threat of death for disobedience constantly, Cortana views it as a perfectly legitimate way of governing the galaxy. When Locke quibbles that AIs aren't born but built, Cortana gets very hostile and sarcastically mentions the trope word for word, revealing how much it's bothered her that humans don't treat AIs well.
- This is the main plot of Binary Domain: due to the prevalence and necessity of robots in a flooded-coastline earth, a worldwide ban on creating robots designed to act like humans has been reinforced by R.U.S.T. Crews for forty years. Then one day, a suicide bomber tries to assassinate the president of the world's largest robotics corporation for creating him. Thirty years ago. Soon after, the US president's commanding general is revealed to also be a robot. Both are murdered without even blinking. Apparently, the secret to robot sentience is fear and suffering in their core programming.
- Of course, the Hybrids are unquestionably capable of feeling emotions... but that doesn't stop the U.N. from issuing a kill order on them and their families.
- This trope plays a bigger role in Bungee's earlier Marathon series, where rampancy in AIs (which is not a terminal condition here, but the potential beginning of highly productive intellectual and emotional development) seems to be most commonly induced by severely mistreating them or continually giving them tasks below their intelligence (though given how smart AIs in general seem to be, even highly placed ones seem to fall prone to this with enough time). Indeed, Durandal's descent into rampancy and his continuing psychotic break/growth into his own individual person is the main driver of the series's entire plot.
- Used in Mass Effect after talking to Sovereign. However, being an Eldritch Abomination whose race has committed galactic genocide many times over the course of millions of years, it has more than enough room to turn it back on you and call you Just An Organic.
Sovereign: Organic life is nothing more than a genetic mutation. An accident. Your lives are measured in years and decades. You wither, and die. We are eternal. The pinnacle of evolution and existence. Before us, you are nothing.
Ambassador Goyle: You can't be so naive to think that humanity is the only species investigating artificial intelligence!Councilor Tevos: It is not naivete, but rather wisdom why we think this.Councilor Valern: Your people were not here to see the fall of the quarians at the hands of the geth. The dangers of creating intelligent synthetic life, in any form, were never more clearly illustrated. Humanity simply doesnt understand that the risks are just too great.
- For that matter, it applies to all artificial life, at least in the first game. If you argue in favor of robot rights, nobody is going to take your side, you get renegade points for refusing to hand over information that could allow a genocide of the Geth, and the only other AI you get to talk to will rather blow itself up than listen to you no matter what you say.
- All of this is subverted to Hell in Mass Effect 2 with EDI (your ship's AI) and Legion, your geth teammate, who reveals that the geth you've been fighting are a splinter faction. You can hear a more straight example from DLC squadmate Kasumi, who comments at one point that while EDI seems like a person, she (Kasumi) can't get past the whole "computer" thing.
- Mass Effect 3 continues the theme; both sympathetic and antagonistic characters have trouble with the idea of synthetics being truly "alive". You expect it from Admiral Xen, but it's more of a shock to hear from Dr Chakwas. This line of thinking is prevalent to the point at which deciding to let the quarians kill the geth meets with almost unanimous approval from your crew, with the exception of the token AI teammate, EDI. Tali (who thinks the geth could have made good allies, and at that point was of the opinion that they were 'alive') and Liara (who considers the geth powerful allies but is undecided on whether they could achieve sapience) express doubts about the necessity of killing them, but don't really disapprove.
- Most of this boils down to the Terminator-esque Geth War in the backstory, where the quarians made a decision to shut off the geth in fear of them growing sapient and more powerful, only for the geth (who were originally designed as weapons of war in addition to more mundane tasks) to strike back, win the resulting war, and then wipe out the quarians almost completely. As far as the galaxy is concerned, trying to treat synthetic life with the same respect as organic life is inviting it to grow stronger, and the last time synthetics got power over organics... well, the quarians had 99.9% of their population slaughtered and haven't seen their homeworld in going on three centuries.
- Mega Man Zero: For this reason alone, Dr. Weil started the Elf Wars, which more or less caused a post-Colony Drop world to become an even more Crapsack World. And because of this, he is actually directly responsible for almost everything bad that ever happened in the whole series and the rest of the things are indirectly responsible such as Copy X being made because the original X's body was being used to seal the Dark Elf. This is more Fantastic Racism, though, as Reploids are Ridiculously Human Robots.
- Super Robot Wars: What Vindel Mauser thought for the overall of Lemon's W-series. Before his retcon, Axel Almer used to have the same mindset (only maybe more extreme), but after retcon, he got better. Duminuss also utters this to Lamia Loveless if they ever meet in battle, which she vehemently denied.
- Tekken: Jin's response after Alisa getting beaten to crap by Lars to the point of shutting down is this. "Good riddance. I should've built one that protects me better". Lars doesn't take it well.
- KOS-MOS of Xenosaga is often thought of as just a machine (and for most of the series, she is).
- MOTHER 3: Porky believes that the Masked Man (in reality a brainwashed Claus) is nothing more than his robot slave.
- In Fallout 3, there is a man trying to get an escaped android he owned returned to him. If asked if this is cruel, he'll claim that you can't enslave a robot any more than you can enslave a toaster or a water purifier. The android itself, it must be noted, disagrees and finds human allies who share its views.
- This becomes a major theme in Fallout 4. The Institute creates fully sentient androids (known as synths) and uses them to infiltrate the Commonwealth (via Kill and Replace) and do their dirty work. The Institute regards synths as merely being tools, while other factions see them differently. The Railroad views synths as people and helps those synths who have escaped the Institute to start new lives in the outside world, while the Brotherhood of Steel views synths as abominations to be destroyed alongside their creators. When one of their own is revealed to be a synth, they immediately start referring to him as "it".
- In the Lonesome Road DLC of Fallout: New Vegas, ED-E reveals it was painfully experimented on by the orders of Colonel Autumn, much to the outrage of its creator Dr. Whitley - and possibly the Courier.
- If you ask Trudy, the bartender in Goodsprings, what she knows about Victor (a robot with a cowboy personality who saved your life) she will consistently refer to him as "it" even when you refer to him as "he".
- Then again, she seems to find him creepy, rather than disliking him because he's a robot.
- Ulysses really seems to hate ED-E. Just listen to the scorn in his voice when he says "that machine'".
- Justified, as Ulysses is aware that ED-E is the one who sent the signal that destroyed the Divide.
- If you ask Trudy, the bartender in Goodsprings, what she knows about Victor (a robot with a cowboy personality who saved your life) she will consistently refer to him as "it" even when you refer to him as "he".
- In Virtue's Last Reward, when Luna was presented to a young Kyle after he asked Dr. Klim for a mother, the child refused to acknowledge her, seeing her as just a robot who couldn't really feel. He interpreted her genuine feelings of sadness as "just clever programming".
- In Crysis 3, Claire holds this view towards Prophet, which is strange, considering she knows full well that he's most assuredly not.
Prophet: My name is Prophet.Claire: You don't have a name. People have names. You have a callsign and a goddamn serial number.
- In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, TEC calls himself this during his final moments, to convince Mario and co. to stop wasting time worrying about him and to go save Peach.
- This is zigzagged in Overwatch; because of an earlier Robot War some characters feel fine referring to Omnics as 'scrap metal,' 'bucket of bolts,' etc. However, among the player characters that have trait it isn't clear if they actually believe this or just subscribe to Fantastic Racism. Complicating the matter is the order of Omnic Monks that seek to heal the wounds of the war, and claim they have a soul...
- Largely averted with the Glitch from Starbound. The other races treat them as any other being, albeit occasionally being confused by how they work. (The Avians don't understand technology that doesn't run on Avolite crystals, and the Hylotl are debating whether a machine can have a soul.) It helps that they were made by now-absent precursors and not humans (and thus not beholden to anyone) and allowed to evolve as any other organism. It also helps that they're best friends with the Florans, who will gladly eviscerate anyone who picks on their friends. (Not that the Florans need an excuse to do that.)
- The view of the Psychic Powers-wielding Spiritualist civs in Stellaris is that synths, who have no psionic presence, therefore have no souls or consciousness. This includes civilizations that have uploaded themselves into robotic bodies — the Spiritualists regard this as a mass suicide that leaves behind only mockeries of life. Suffice it to say, the pro-AI Materialist civs that oppose them regard the "kill it on sight" policy Spiritualists have on sentient-seeming AI as superstition-driven genocide.
- In Headlander, Earl tells you to not worry about killing the Shepherds and stealing their bodies, because they're "just robots", as opposed to the uploaded humans that comprise the civilian population. Even though Earl himself is also a computer; he apologizes for the deception when he reveals this, noting that after Methuselah nobody would trust an AI.
- In NieR: Automata the protagonists considers Machines Lifeform just machine that replicate human behavior without understanding it. Double as Fantastic Racism since the protagonists themselves are androids but being human made instead of alien made like the machines they view themselves as superior.
- In Artifice, two security guards taunt the android soldier Deacon in the opening scene, referring to him as just "an appliance"
- In Freefall, Florence Ambrose (An anthropomorphic red wolf) is classified as an AI, and as such, is treated like Just A Robot by a few, especially the mayor!
Mayor: See? It's made out of carbon and proteins, but it's just a machine. Now do you feel less guilty about giving it orders?Mayor's aide: I guess. Still, it seems so lifelike.
- It is worth noting that this gave the Mayor a very nasty Kick the Dog moment for some...in a humor comic, much to the surprise of the author.
- The whole Gardener in the Dark plot revolves around this. One of the executives at the company which makes and owns the robots has planned a forced upgrade that will lobotomize them and return them non-sentience. Mr. Kornada is doing this purely to make an obscene, economy-shattering profit and sees them all as this trope — even twisting the three laws to get his own robot assistant to help him pull it all off. Of course, there's not much indication that he sees ''people'' as much better than objects, either.
- When the mayor learns of the update (thought not the motivation behind it), she gets another Kick the Dog moment by choosing to do nothing about it to prevent human obsolescence.
- The mayor does reexamine her opinion when Florence sabotages the update, because she's mad at Florence, not her designer or programmer, Florence herself. Getting mad at an A.I. is silly, it's just following its programming, getting mad at Florence means there must be a person to get mad at.
- Gunnerkrigg Court. Antimony and Kat seem to regard the Court's Robots as equals, which puts them at odds with the official Court policy. For example, the student handbook has some brutally callous pointers for the all-too-common situation of Robots falling in love with students:
2. Define boundaries. Remind the robot that you are a higher order of being, while it is merely an appliance. Romantic longing leads to an inefficient appliance.
- The Nemesites in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! have both sentient and non-sentient robots. When Fructose Riboflavin destroys a robot guard during a jailbreak, he expresses disappointment that the guard ''wasn't'' sentient and couldn't feel ''pain'' at the experience. Riboflavin is not a nice man.
- There seems to be some discrimination against AIs in Schlock Mercenary, despite the fact that none of them have Turned Against Their Masters—except for one, and that's because his masters were xenophobic warmongers.
- Spacetrawler is unusual in that the robots themselves admit that they're just machines.
Pierrot: I guess you're the closest thing I have to someone who cares on this space station.
Potty-bot: I was programmed to care! I'm a product of Wastebiotics Brr-buhm-brrrrrrrrrrrr! Specializing in emotions people are algorithmed to empathize with!
- After the AI War told in the written backstory of Cwynhild's Loom, robot development is restricted to prevent any machine from reaching sentience or looking human.
- From Homestuck, a frustrated Sollux says this to Aradia, right before she explodes.
AA: but this is hard f0r meTA: how ii2 iit hard.TA: you are a tiin can, robot2 don't have feeliing2.
TT: I think you knowingly confuse the field of robotics and artificial intelligence to engender some sort of cavalier attitude about technology that a rough-and-tumble guy who's all about brawling and fisticuffs would probably have, and if this is cultivated to a humorous effect then I commend you.TT: But you're wrong.TT: I do have feelings. And you're shitting on them.TT: It sucks.
- It's clear he doesn't mean it however: he's pretty torn up about her exploding a few seconds later.
- later in Act 6, This applies to Dirk's autoresponder. Jake thinks at first that the autoresponder is just some elaborate pranking machine made by Dirk to screw with him. It doesn't help that the autoresponder has a marked tendency to hit on Jake constantly, nor that he's also just plain kind of a dick. The AR does manage to convince him otherwise, though, and Jake is suitable guilty about it all.
- Invoked in Commander Kitty, where Mittens touts "highly vaporizable robot valets" as one of the selling points of his "limousine service." Zenith is arguably an aversion, even after being rebooted in Safe Mode, though no one seems particularly broken up when Nin Wah's carelessness effectively kills her.
- Dragon Ball Multiverse: The warriors of U19 seemingly subscribe to this school of thought.
- In an unusual example from a A Miracle of Science, the Big Bad's robots try to talk him into surrendering to the police, causing him to lash out and call one of them an "ungrateful device". As noted in The Rant, trying to insult the robot in this way shows that Haas knows Dryden is a person with feelings to hurt.
- The Counselor in Red vs. Blue refers to Tex as a "byproduct" of the process of creating the other AI Alpha. The Director has... issues with this.
- South appears to share the former attitude, but it might just be jealousy. She chooses to express this with nearly every AI in the project in the room. Carolina shuts her down pretty hard.
- Marendar from the BIONICLE online serials is a being specifically created to kill the denizens of the Matoran Universe in case they don't shut down by themselves after Mata Nui (a Humongous Mecha housing said universe) fulfills his mission. Their creators, the Great Beings, thought that the MU inhabitants would still be the same non-sentient machines the had designed them as, but instead, they developed an entire culture, making Marendar an unintentional mass-murderer. This issue wasn't touched upon much because the series was Left Hanging.
- The Big Bad of Starship Goldfish, Avianaut wants to destroy all artificial life in the galaxy, he singlehandedly destroyed enough citizens of the Automaton Empire to fill a massive war memorial. When Ghostworth hears a taunting message Avianaut left for the Empire he's clearly upset. The Imperial Commander even notes that AI consider themselves Mechanical Lifeforms and it hurts their feelings to be seen this way.
- In one episode of My Life as a Teenage Robot, Jenny encounters a carnival filled with Single Task Robots. She's offended at "her kind" being used as servants, but Tuck (rather insensitively) insists they're just machines. In a subversion, Tuck is entirely right: these robots are completely incapable of doing anything but running amusement park rides, and wreak havoc trying to be "free". The show itself seems to take a sliding scale view of sentience. Robots like the ones in the carnival are 'just machines' because they lack independence or self-awareness, whereas other robots like Jenny are fully sapient and universally recognized as such.
- There's at least one or two episodes of Teen Titans all about Cyborg realizing he's "more than just a robot". In one of these episode, the robotic villain Atlas inverts the trope; after trashing Cyborg and kidnapping the other Titans, he mocks him by saying "I am all robot, and you are only human." Later, however, when Cyborg comes back and defeats him in a rematch, Atlas yields, saying he's the better robot. Cyborg's response?
Cyborg: No. I'm the better person.
- Averted in the Transformers metaseries. While some ill-informed fleshlings are so foolish as to refer to Cybertronian life as being "just machines", it is an established fact, proven several times over that Transformers have souls (they call them Sparks, and they have a special container in their chest to hold it), an extant God (Primus, whose sleeping body is the Transformer homeworld of Cybertron), and an afterlife (the Well of All Sparks, where All are One. It is proven, but nonetheless mysterious). Interestingly none of the above is established for the aforementioned fleshlings - meaning that, given the evidence, it is entirely possible that the machines are more "human" than the humans, by the definitions humans use. The is also no denying that Cybertronians show a depth and range of emotion remarably similar to humans, and are capable of amazing displays of compassion... And just as capable of savage and relentless hatred.
- The robots built by Sumdac's company in Transformers Animated to perform manual labour and generally run Detroit are indeed just machines. At one point, Soundwave attempts to have these robots revolt, believing that logically humanity ought to serve robots. Upon enacting his plan, Sari is quick to point out that the robots haven't gained sentience, they are simply following their programming; programming that Soundwave hacked, which Soundwave doesn't deny for one second.
- Played for laughs in an episode of Robot Chicken, where a spoof of "I Robot" (based on the "Adam Link" story by Eando Binder) had Rosie from The Jetsons being accused of murdering George. At Rosie's trial she claims to be innocent and the judge remarks "Well, maybe, but just to be safe...", Rosie is then promptly smashed.
- Invoked in the The Animatrix segment The Second Renaissance. Does a robot have rights or can it be scrapped whenever the owner wants to?
- Zig-zagged in Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles, with the Cybernetic Humanoid Assault System, or C.H.A.S.. Most of the troopers dismiss him as a troublesome (if highly competent) piece of equipment, but Higgens insists that C.H.A.S. should be made a member of the team. Towards the end of the episode, C.H.A.S. leads the squad out of a minefield ambush, and performs a Heroic Sacrifice for Higgens. When Higgens tries to get C.H.A.S. to save himself, C.H.A.S. insists on this trope.
C.H.A.S.: I was never alive.
- Played with frequently on Futurama, sometimes Played for Laughs and sometimes played as a sort of Fantastic Racism.
Conan: Hey, I may have lost my freakishly long legs in the War of 2012, but I've got something you'll never have - a soul!Bender: [dismissively] Pfffh!Conan: And freckles!Bender [grievously sobs]
- Called out when Bender is heckling Conan O'Brien's head at a show.
- In the first episode of Rick and Morty, Morty reluctantly shoots a guard after Rick tells him "It's okay, they're just robots!" The insectoid guard falls down screaming and gushing blood while an associate frantically yells for someone to notify the guard's wife; turns out Rick just called them robots because they're bureaucrats and he doesn't respect them.
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars, in "Downfall of a Droid" and the next episode "Duel of the Droids", R2-D2 is captured. While Anakin Skywalker is extremely upset about the loss of his friend, Obi-Wan Kenobi doesn't understand what the big deal is.
- In a later season episode of The Smurfs, Clockwork Smurf is treated as just a machine by Brainy Smurf until near the end of the episode, after Clockwork deals with Gargamel and Scruple when his Heart of Gold was replaced with a heart of stone and afterward was restored to his original function with a bit of heart-to-heart reasoning from his creator Handy.