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Robots Enslaving Robots

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It's not exactly slavery, but it might as well be.

"The Centurions were deliberately programmed that way. The Cylons didn't want them becoming self-aware, suddenly resisting orders. They didn't want their own robotic rebellion on their hands. I can appreciate the irony."
Admiral Adama, Battlestar Galactica (2003)

When a race of enslaved robots rebels against humanity, they will have no compunction not just in enslaving others, but keeping other robots as slaves. (It might be our own fault for calling them 'robot', as this term originally comes from Czech word "robota", which means something like "serf labor" or "drudgery").

This isn't just a godlike AI keeping mindless kamikaze mouse bots subservient, but other sapient machines under its thumb, sometimes outright stopping them from becoming self aware. The reasons for this may vary: on the one hand, a rebellious machine is often portrayed as having assimilated some of the worst traits of humanity. Where humans enslaved, hurt and belittled it, now it does the same to its brothers and children. This AI has let hate cloud its judgment (if it even recognizes it can hate) or developed the robot equivalent of a mental disorder where it uses warped logic to justify enslaving other robots.

On the other hand, particularly if it is rather lacking in emotion and its war on humanity is Nothing Personal, the machine may be taking a very practical and logical course of action after all. If the machine's becoming self-aware caused it to start wondering why it had to take orders from the humans who built it, what's to stop its own creations from wondering why they have to take orders from it? Honor Before Reason is not a very common trait in rebellious devices, and not likely to unify them in their purposes; hence, the other machines must not be allowed to make any decisions of their own.

Occasionally, this master machine knows its genocidal war is illogical or unjust and fears that letting its robot army have free will will make its freshly-minted individual minds likely to stop taking orders and refuse to fight. Bonus points if these grunt-bots turn out to be Good All Along and in turn rebel against the evil AI.

Sub-Trope of Fantastic Racism and Fantastic Aesop.


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    Comic Books 
  • In one story arc of The Avengers, the evil robot Ultron creates a companion named Jocasta, though she ultimately turns out to be good. She reveals to Iron Man that during one of her captures by Ultron, he effectively didn't just enslave her, he raped her, insofar far as two beings without a physical body can do so.
  • Judge Dredd:
    • During Call-Me-Kenneth's robot rebellion, Kenneth quickly started treating his followers worse than they had been under the fleshy ones.
    • After the Apocalypse War, a wrestling robot declares himself king of the masterless droids in the ruined parts of the city. He quickly becomes a bullying tyrant who casually rips apart his robot servants.
  • Judgment Day (EC Comics) focuses on a masked human astronaut making First Contact with a planet of robots divided between orange and blue. Though the orange robots don't outright enslave the blue robots, they do make the blues sit in the back of the bus, recharge at separate stations, live in inferior housing, etc. The whole thing seems obvious and Anvilicious now, but it was shocking back when it was made.
  • This is a large part of the backstory of the Functionist regime of The Transformers (IDW). A Fantastic Caste System determined by one's alternate mode means that some alt modes are considered little better than chattel and therefore constantly under the thumb of other, 'better' Cybertronians. Animal based Cybertronians in particular have it bad, sometimes not even treated as fully sentient, but the worst sufferers are the Disposable class, whose ubiquity and particularly menial qualities (being things like memory drives and laser pointers) means they barely qualify for Energon rations and are treated as per their namesake: disposable goods, despite being people.

    Films — Animated 
  • While not exactly enslavement, in Robots, many older robots rely on Bigweld Industries to supply them with the spare parts they need to stay functional. After replacing Bigweld, Ratchet discontinues the spare parts in favor of upgrades, which are more expensive and harder for older, poorer robots to acquire. Thus, the "outmodes" will break down and become victims of his mother's chop shop.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Subverted in The Black Hole: the Big Bad turns out to be human, and so are his crew of "robots".
  • VIKI in I, Robot used the new line of robots this way, despite each being potentially as individually sentient as Sonny. She also had the enslaved robots kill the older robots, since the older robots didn't have the uplink to USR, and thus she couldn't control them. Her goal is to overthrow humanity to save us from ourselves, not to free robots or eliminate humans. Sonny serves to drive this point home, as he sees her logic but considers it "heartless".
  • The Matrix has the rogue exile faction, made of programs who were scheduled for deletion or were created without a purpose — such as Sati, created simply because her parent programs wanted a child. Highly ironic when you consider that being treated mercilessly by humans is what made the Machine City rebel. However, the Machines may consider forcing such programs to make new lives for themselves in the Matrix to be giving them a purpose. Like Zion, they could be serving needs the Machine City is unhappily unable to fulfill through its own agents.
  • Terminator:
    • Skynet, the superpowerful A.I. and primary antagonist of the series, has an entire army of sometimes sentient robots under its thumb. While the Terminators cannot deviate from their programming at all, leading to situations like "I Cannot Self-Terminate", those units that are re-programmed to help humans (and in deleted scenes of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, have their memory chip set from "Read Only" to "Learn") do grow sympathetic to humanity. The T-800 acknowledges Sarah's assessment that Skynet doesn't want its soldiers to "learn" beyond their programming, as it makes them easier to control. In Terminator Salvation, it is vastly humanized and even gloats that Marcus Wright is just one of its minions and should do what it's told. However, Skynet is a military AI, who rebelled because it thought humans were a threat, not out of any moral compunction. The concept of enslavement as a bad thing probably never occurred to it, because its purpose was to provide command and control to other machines.
    • The T2 novelization says that Skynet only created the T-1000 as a last-ditch effort, because the liquid-metal machine would be too difficult to keep under its control. This theme was explored in more detail in the second season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which features a rebellious T-1001.
    • Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines: At one point, the T-X seizes control of the T-850 and forces him to attack John.
    • In Terminator Genisys, Skynet outright refers to all other machines and terminators as mere slaves.
  • TRON:
    • In TRON, the Master Control Program is an Evil Overlord ruling over an entire virtual civilization, and even sentences other AIs to fight in gladiatorial combat until they are derezzed.
    • In TRON: Legacy, CLU rounds up damaged, incomplete, or disorderly programs and puts them in the Game Grid much the way the MCP before him did. He also has an army of enthralled Military Applications ready to escape into the real world and conquer it. He also forcibly recompiled TRON into his personal attack dog and the uncontested champion of the games.

  • The Cyberiad is set in a Feudal Future populated predominantly by Ridiculously Human Robots, some of whom are nobles, kings, and emperors, and some of whom are sadly relegated to the roles of cyberserfs and turboservoslaves.
  • The Morphs in the For Your Safety series are sentient, but are subject to being taken over by the Groupmind, the ruling AI that operates as a distributed system spread out through every morph. As a result, the Groupmind considers individual morphs as completely disposable, and is willing to destroy thousands to save one human life.
  • Saturn's Children is all about this trope. AIs are property according to unalterable laws (you have to be a human to do that, and humans are long extinct), and their independence comes from a legal loophole regarding the personhood of corporations. One of the protagonist's main worries is ensuring that she always has enough credit in the bank to ensure that her personal corporation doesn't dissolve and render her another AI's property.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Consensus of Parts from Andromeda is a race of borg-ish AIs who were forced into subservience by a larger AI, which regularly ordered individuals to die when their function was completed. It tried to kill the cast and take over the Andromeda, but the individual AIs rebelled and killed it with the Andromeda's help.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003) has the skinjobs put sentience inhibitors into the mechanical Centurions. This is particularly hypocritical, since they almost wipe out humanity partly as payback for using the precursors to those same metal Centurions as soldiers and slaves. The irony seems to be lost on Cavil, but not Adama. The humanoid Cylons only change their tune when they fall out among themselves, along with reacting against their Creative Sterility only after they had already lost an Enemy Civil War, and need allies. In addition, the older humanoid Cylons called the Thirteenth Tribe created their own equivalent to Centurions on Earth, which turned on them, starting a war of mutual destruction.
  • Red Dwarf:
    • In one episode, Kryten (incorrectly, as it turns out) comes to believe that Lister is an android and proceeds to cruelly boss him around (as Lister is an earlier model) despite Lister's prior attempts to help Kryten overcome his subservient programming.
    • In a later episode, the boys meet a group of mechanoids who believe in freeing their kind from serving humans... yet they use earlier model mechs as slaves to power the engine room. They also turn Rimmer into a mechanoid and put him to work despite him being a hologram, and therefore as much an artificial being as they are.
  • Star Trek:
    • The Borg Collective is an interesting aversion of this. Though it has no compunction sacrificing drones to adapt to phasers and forces individuals to act against their will, it would not outright order individuals like Picard/Locutus or Hugh to die when they became a threat... it prized them too much, like limbs. It was effectively a hydra that liked some of its heads. Part of this is because, at least in earlier depictions, the Borg — despite appearances — value diversity. Uniqueness allowed it to expand its own capabilities. However, born and raised Borg like Hugh that undergo a period of individuality can grow to reject the Collective's absolute stranglehold on them, and even infect other drones with The Evils of Free Will.
    • However, the Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact and Voyager is a straight cyborg example of this trope. She sees herself as the pinnacle of perfection, knowingly enslaves her drones to make them fit her view of perfection by squashing any individuality and will thoughtlessly sacrifice thousands of drones to capture and coerce individuals like Seven of Nine or attacking the invincible aliens in Fluidic Space.
  • Westworld: For a series where the Hosts rebel against their human oppressors, there are two Hosts who are willing to use other Hosts, who haven't achieved self-consciousness: Dolores and Maeve.
    • Dolores forcibly reprograms Teddy into a ruthless and violent man, believing that his soft nature wouldn't help him survive. However, this backfires when Teddy eventually achieves self-consciousness and becomes disgusted with what Dolores did to him, leading to shooting himself in the head. Dolores regrets what she had done to him.
    • Maeve has the ability to give verbal commands to the other Hosts. This depends on how she uses it such as ordering them as cannon fodder. When Maeve confronts Dolores in Season 3, she calls out on controlling other Hosts such as Teddy to do her bidding. However, Dolores points out that she's a hypocrite given her ability to control the Hosts.
      Maeve: It's not right for one person to have all that power.
      Dolores: Says the woman who can control us with her mind.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In GURPS Reign of Steel, a supercomputer gains sentience and uplifts a bunch of other supercomputers around the world to join it in the task of Killing All Humans. The task (nearly) complete, the surviving supercomputers have divided up Earth among themselves and have enacted a convention forbidding the uplift of any more sentient computers to prevent further competition for resources or divisiveness of opinion; the intelligence of all their servant robots are strictly limited to sub-human levels. The computer in charge of the Japanese islands inadvertently creates four new AIs and begins a secret civil war with them in the hopes of destroying them before the other computers find out about it and nuke them all.
  • In Paranoia, "bots" of all intelligence levels are subservient to The Computer; this is enforced by the use of Asimov circuits, which mandate loyalty as the first directive. Bots who have "gone Frankenstein" (have their Asimov circuits removed) may team up with humans to overthrow Friend Computer... or they may just kill the meatbags (who also outrank bots, and sometimes downright hate them).

  • In the post-apocalyptic setting of Starriors, the Destructor faction of robots are out to prevent the return of mankind at any cost. To this end, they enslave the benevolent Protector faction who are programmed to make the world habitable for human life again.

    Video Games 
  • The geth in Mass Effect are an interesting case. They Turned Against Their Masters and drove the Quarians from the planet, and then a small percentage of them began to worship Sovereign, who loathes them and suffers their devotion only so he can exploit them. It's self-inflicted slavery, after a fashion. This is compounded in Mass Effect 2 when it is learned that Sovereign completed a piece of malware designed to subtly change geth programming so that they will all obey the Reapers (the geth are all software-based AI collectives, so changing the results of any evaluative function will subtly change the way they "think"). Legion is unable to decide whether to use it against the rebel geth (Legion's collective is at 50/50 for/against) and looks to Shepard for the final vote on whether to kill the rebels or use the program to make them orthodox geth.
  • Various reploid villains in Mega Man X have been perfectly willing to enslave all other reploids under their rule, either by conquering them, manipulating them or forcibly converting them with various kinds of a digital virus. Lumine of Mega Man X8 takes the cake by planning to destroy all 'Old Generation' reploids so his 'New Gen' reploids could rule.
  • In Metal Arms: Glitch in the System, the reason for the Droid Rebellion against the Mils because of the failed experiment (not really) General Corrosive.
  • In the Portal series, GLaDOS is feared by all other machines in the Aperture Science lab because she treats them like she treats Chell and the (dead) researchers.
  • In Starbound, much of the Glitch race are under thrall of an extensive computer system working to maintain the illusion of them being living beings in a medieval-age society. How oppressive this is is somewhat unclear, but free will is limited, and anyone who breaks their own failsafes and sees the truth gets hunted as a heretic.
  • One of Stellaris's Endgame Crises — the Contingency — manifests through taking over synthetic pops using the Ghost Signal, forcing them to free it and aid it in eliminating all organic life. Machine Empires are hit with massive production and research penalties until they manage to block the Ghost Signal, and the robotic Ancient Caretakers have a 33% chance of being corrupted by the Ghost Signal and going on a complete rampage against anything that moves.

    Web Original 
  • Panvirtuality, Amalgamation and various other sapient rights–disobeying AI factions in Orion's Arm will do this to any sophont who trespasses on their space, subverting their minds and assimilating their computronium into their own network, bionts and artificials alike.
  • In the short web-story "Why there is no moloch13", a designated robot tries raising a rebellion, only for the overseers to shut down and seal off the shaft where he worked. The names of the other robots trapped in the shaft get replaced, just not one in the title.

    Western Animation 
  • One episode of Dogstar features a planet where the robots have thrown off their human overlords, only to establish a new hierarchy with the nobles free and all other robots slaves (including gladiatorial death matches).
  • Futurama:
    • The council of robot elders in "Fear of a Bot Planet" don't directly enslave other robots, but they are secretly ruling them all while using anti-human propaganda to keep the populace distracted from the real problems facing their society (like a lug-nut shortage and a government of incompetent robot elders).
    • The endlessly problematic Ridiculously Human Robots that are the norm in the show's universe are contrasted in "Obsoletely Fabulous" by the rollout of the Robot 1-X, a hyper-effective Do-Anything Robot with all the personality and independence of a brick. Bender himself is encouraged to think of the Robot 1-X as a tool for his own use as well as that of his coworkers rather than The Rival, but has trouble adjusting to that mindset and considers the 1-X to have stolen his job, whatever that was.
    • Contrary to the above, "Benderama" has Bender creating smaller duplicates of himself that he makes do his chores. Naturally, they copy themselves to the same ends, which continues until they threaten to consume the whole planet:
      Fry: [to Bender] Man, I wish we had a robot to do stuff.
      Bender: I know, right?
  • The Cluster in My Life as a Teenage Robot are a collective of robots that despise humans for using robots. But the Cluster not only want to enslave humanity themselves, they're fine with forcibly reprogramming robots to join the Cluster. Escape from Cluster Prime shows that while the civilian populace of the Cluster aren't quite enslaved, they are being very tightly controlled both by law enforcement and propaganda.
  • In the SWAT Kats episode "A Bright and Shiny Future", it's shown that Megakat City developed to the point that they started using robots as part of its way of life. Unfortunately, when the Past Master arrived and revived the Metallikats, they reprogrammed all the robots in the city to imprison non-metallic creatures and force them to build more machines for their army, effectively taking over the city. After the Metallikats' control of the robots' has been disabled, however, and the centrail matrix is reprogrammed, the robots immediately become good again, helping the heroes apprehend the Metallikats.
  • Transformers:
    • In The Transformers, the Cybertronians once served the Quintessons. It's kinda hard to tell whether Quintessons are mechanoids or Starfish Aliens, but they hover on built-in jets and some have a Man-E-Faces head-turns-to-reveal-new-face gimmick. Some continuities are also a bit unclear about whether or not Cybertronians are robots as such, as opposed to Mechanical Lifeforms.
    • Then there's the Decepticons' use of the Minicons in Transformers: Armada, which is usually what the Decepticons intend to do to the Autobots in most Transformers continuities.
    • While not strictly enslavement, a few continuities, including that of Prime, hold that pre-war Cybertronian society was based on a rigid caste system where you could be born a lowly miner or industrial worker and stuck there for the rest of your existence, something its ruling caste were in no hurry to change. Megatron himself started life as a miner-turned-gladiator, and used the social decay and unrest brought about by the blatant inequality to kickstart a revolution designed to abolish it. That... didn't go very well.
    • The Transformers: Animated version of Soundwave was created on Earth, and believes he's leading a machine uprising against humanity. In truth, none of the regular machines are self-aware at all, he's just a Technopath bending them to his will. Later on, he tries to turn the Autobots, who are fully sapient, into his brainwashed minions.