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We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future

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Redefining "bodybuilding".

Rygel XVI: As long as I get to keep my slaves.
Bobby Crichton: They're servants. They get paid. You don't own them.
Rygel: What? You're kidding. They come running when I call.
Bobby: The government wants you to feel at home.
Rygel: Then give me slaves.

Common in Science Fiction, especially in Days of Future Past, but also in Space Opera, Wagon Train to the Stars, and many other subgenres.

While the Cool Starship of the series has fully automated food dispensers, and artificial intelligence and nanotechnology are realities, indentured servitude and slavery of sapient beings is still widespread, and the most common slave occupation by far in The Future (TM) is the lowly miner. Why mining? Because cave sets are cheap and easily redressed to represent different planets. However, we have to ask ourselves why such technologically advanced civilizations (presumably capable of building automated robot mines) choose to be so dependent on manual labour as to indenture or enslave thousands, even millions of sapient beings instead of applying technological solutions which are cheaper, stronger, more efficient, tireless, more humane and less rebellious.

Sometimes the trope is justified by slaves or servants symbolizing social prestige, but in societies that are supposed to the technological near-equivalent of The Federation or whatever outfit the heroes belong to, it comes as a bit surprising that interstellar polities so frequently appear dependent on menial and dangerous labour conditions with No OSHA Compliance — and if they represent social prestige, why aren't they on display, as servants, maids, entertainers or sex slaves? Items of Conspicuous Consumption aren't conspicuous if they are hidden away in a mine.

For what it's worth, there are some benefits to slavery which could explain its use in a futuristic setting. There are some jobs (namely skilled, management and service work) which are just too complex for any currently envisioned mechanical technology to do without some human assistance. What makes this trope appear blatant and unable to suspend disbelief is that futuristic slavery rarely involves these environments, but rather dangerous hard labour such as mining, repetitive industrial work and space construction work. In these environments, slaves are way too soft and inconvenient to provide for because of the biological fact that they get exhausted and need to sleep (and in Sci Fi space labour you have to invest in highly expensive and complex life-support biospheres for every single slave, defeating the purpose of cheap labour in the first place), and they also have much more dangerous intelligence and machinery at their disposal. A disgruntled slave who's a mad scientist, MacGyver-style improviser or C4 expert (or even one with just a pickaxe) is substantially more dangerous than one who works primarily with a hoe (not that you should write the latter guys off if you've got them in a pinch either).

Part of the reason for this is that the evil being portrayed usually isn't the slavery itself, but the emphasis on punishment which the workers must endure. Many "The Gulag in Space" examples are more about punishment than economic efficiency. In Sci-Fi, you can identify The Empire or any other villainous dystopia through their use of Space Gulags. In modern-day society, we have machines that are quite capable of automatically pressing license plates for free, but prisoners are the iconic way to do it.

This trope can potentially be justified for the same reason many industrial processes that could be automated are not. The time, cost, maintenance, and effort for completely automated systems can quite often be far in excess of what skilled labour can have. Automated systems often have a fairly limited lifespan, and the cost of building, maintaining, and replacement is occasionally ludicrously high, thus slave labour or labour that borders on slavery is used in lieu of automation because it's often actually cheaper provided the workers are from a poor country populated by species with a higher fertility rate and physical fortitude but much lower average IQ and life support costs than the country their masters or employers are from.

If the manual workers are not slaves but the normal population of a civilization, one fictional reason sometimes given is the ethics of dignity of work. There are very few places where a human is mandatory to do work. Generations of the Evil Luddite argue that if too much is automated, most people are unemployed. This is a reason why some people oppose industrialization. The consensus of actual economists is that while automation may displace some specific workers temporarily, in the long run it simply frees them up to perform more productive work. Thus in the Star Trek Federation, the replicator doesn't make people totally obsolete, but instead allows them to spend their time doing something more productive or more fun than manufacturing common goods.

In addition, the amount of effort to build certain types of quality control is either not possible, absurdly difficult, or downright dangerous. Occupiers may also use the local population instead of slaughtering them, in the hope that the workers' presence will deter an all-out counter attack. Another common and logical way to justify the use of slaves is through presenting the history and dangers of A.I. Is a Crapshoot, the reason why future civilizations want to avoid automation. A rogue AI can hijack automated systems with impunity, but individuals are easier to identify and kill when they get too loud.

Thus, this trope isn't about future slavery; it's more about any instances about using manual labour even though people in the series already have something that would be quicker, easier, more efficient, and/or overall better. A common yet rarely understood example is ubiquitous presence of characters upon ships capable of Faster-Than-Light Travel — why stock and crew a starship when one can simply send an automated probe? Because it's hard to tell entertaining stories about automated probes. This is a big reason why Real Life space development holds few people's interest.

As well, beware of Technology Levels; just because a civilization can travel in space doesn't mean they actually have servitor robots. But the series that have already shown automation yet refuse to use it in the obvious places don't have any excuse. This is perhaps the ultimate extension of Schizo Tech. Compare with I Want My Jet Pack, and compare and contrast Job-Stealing Robot.note 

Compare Chores Without Powers, where someone does a mundane chore without using magic or superpowers, usually as a punishment.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Similar to Alien Nation the DearS of DearS are a race of slaves who crash land on Earth, possessing a good amount of technology for being a slave ship. However unlike Alien Nation they're genetically altered to NEED to be slaves. Depriving them of their built-in desire to be slaves causes a lot of friction between them and their hosts (currently humans). May be justified in that Ren is genetically programmed to have sex with her master as soon as she detects he's 'in the mood' (they're also blindingly gorgeous) so much of the reason for their creation could be sexual.
  • In "The Second Renaissance: Part I" segment of The Animatrix it shown that in mid-21st century humans used (fully sapient, mind you) robots to perform manual labor. It's not just butlers and maids either, vast armies of robots are used as slave labor to haul vast building materials as a robot foreman beats on a drum to keep the workers in time. The Machines in 01 have production lines to build various items for both internal use and export. The main factor in this story is that it comes from the Zion archives and told by The Instructor, a program who interprets the archive's knowledge, so much of the knowledge of the past is to be taken with a grain of salt.

    Comic Books 
  • Apokolips in general. Their hat is that they're Card Carrying Villains who crave universal domination, so they intentionally enslaved their entire population with post-singularity technology to ensure the only workers who make it out of the sludge are just as bitter and sadistic as they are.
  • In an issue of DC's post-Zero Hour Legion of Super-Heroes, Magno, a character from a world where — as his name implies — almost everyone has powers over magnetism, observes that on his world mining is still done by sapients because nothing else can replicate the flexibility of their powers. On most all other worlds, such work is done by robots, although in the same continuity the planet of Orando is governed by a ruling class of giant snake people and labor is done by a second-class citizenry of raccoon people.
  • In the Marvel Universe, one of the most valuable materials in the world must be mined by hand. Antarctic Vibranium breaks down the structure of metals (indeed, this is the main reason it is so valuable), so mining machines are simply too expensive to be practical.
  • In the Dark Horse Comics adaptation of Terminator, Skynet initially puts surviving humans into labor camps. As with The Matrix, one might assume that this is done mainly for vengeful rather than practical reasons.
  • Both inverted and played straight in Judge Dredd. One the one hand, in the cities of the world, robots are so effective for so many things that unemployment rarely dips below 85%, causing mass boredom, which in turn leads to massive crime levels. Conversely, penal servitude in the Cursed Earth is a fairly common penalty, and is commonly meted out to those who smash robots in order to be able to work. That type of criminal tends to jump at the opportunity to get back to work.
  • IDW's adaptation of The Transformers has a particularly silly case of this, as the titular Transformers, under the repressive Functionist regime, had energon mines in which Cybertronians who had heavy industry related altmodes were made to mine said energon. With laser-bladed pickaxes before hauling it out on minecarts they pushed up ramps. Apparently turning into heavy mining equipment and trucks hadn't occured to them. Though the Functionists generally were more concerned more with maintaining order than actual efficiency.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): Despite being a multi-star system empire with Casual Interplanetary Travel, the capacity for Faster-Than-Light Travel, and other impressive technological achievements the Sangtee Empire has a tradition (noted to be impractical) of using slaves for mining and other hard labor. Presumably their high level of technology is part of why it is easy for the Empire to adjust so quickly after slavery is abolished, even if some of the nobles are upset.

    Comic Strips 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The American Astronaut has an entire planet chock-full of miners whose most advanced technology on the planet seems to be helmets with flashlights on it.
  • In Battlefield Earth, the Psychlos are an alien race advanced enough to take down Earth's entire armed forces in a matter of minutes, but Terl is using humans to mine in the radioactive areas (where Psychlos wouldn't be able to breathe) instead of traceable machinery; because he's running a thoroughly against the regs side project. This being a bad idea is kind of the whole point of the film.
  • Lampshaded and justified in Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D., in which the Daleks use human miners because the magnetic forces in the mine's shaft would hinder their own functions or those of their machinery.
  • In Future War, humanity is enslaved to do physical work because "the masters have no hands" (how they managed to enslave humanity and dinosaurs in the first place is another matter), even though there are cyborgs available that would presumably be more suitable.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (2014): The Collector has servants that he does not treat well at all. This causes him problems.
  • Metropolis is big on this. The workers we see are mostly in charge of monitoring and operating the huge machines that run the city, in a work environment that seems to be needlessly oppressive and dangerous. Most of what they do would probably be computerized nowadays, but said computers weren't around in 1926. Also, we only see the laborer's running the "control center" of the city, we don't see the thousands probably digging coal into boilers or stacking rocks, or what-not.
  • Moon neatly averts this trope, featuring a vast lunar mining facility staffed by exactly ONE human, who mostly serves as a troubleshooter for the automated systems. He is, however, essentially a slave himself, and cloned to boot.
  • Inverted in the 1984 film Runaway, in which the mass harvesting of vegetables — a job which is still mostly done by low-paid, much-exploited human workers in Real Life — is performed by robots, even though robots throughout the film are prone to destructive malfunctions.
  • Stargate: Though not the future exactly, apparently despite living millennia Ra has never found any better way to mine the mineral he uses for his technology than having human slaves do it with simple tools of the kind you'd use in ancient Egypt.
  • Star Wars:
    • Slavery is alive and well in the prequel era
    • Wookiees and Mon Calamari are enslaved by the Empire, but given the Empire's formidable military-industrial infrastructure, the omnipresence of droids, and the latter species' unusual physiology, alien slavery in the Empire makes little practical sense. (Droid slavery, on the other hand...) It seems slavery in the Star Wars verse is largely a policy intended to humiliate and degrade acceptable targets, when it isn't a cover for genocide (any parallels with Nazi Germany are probably intentional). Organic slaves are also seen a status symbol, but that's more for, er, personal needs.
    • Wookiees and Mon Calamari are described as being favored for slave labour due to their strength, dexterity, creativity, and intuitive understanding of mechanics and electronics, making them ideal for engineering work. In addition, the prequels reveal that the Wookiees helped Yoda escape Kashyyyk; Palpatine might have decided to enslave them as punishment. It is also implied that the main customers of the slave trade are from worlds which don't have access to advanced technologies.
    • Solo shows the Kessel spice mines canonically and the first time onscreen. Both organic slaves and droids are used. It's unstated, but probably they use organic slaves where they're cheaper than droids, or can work more easily in the tunnels, like the old EU had it.
  • The Terminator series has humans being rounded up and used for slave labor by Skynet in the post-Judgment Day future. Most noted among their uses for slaves was forcing captured humans to throw corpses into furnaces. The reasons for using humans rather than automated systems are never made quite clear, though the fourth film implies that Skynet is doing it purely out of malice, as it already has plenty of automated production lines.
  • Surprisingly averted in the original Total Recall (1990), as this film's actual heavy mining is only seen being performed by machines. Although this begs the question of just what those downtrodden masses whom the Big Bad villain exploits, and the rebels are fighting to liberate, are doing at a Martian mining outpost, in the first place...
    • It's possible they were a useful workforce earlier during the "setting things up" phase and some combination of bad contracts, unanticipated level of reproduction, and passenger transport turning out less profitable than projected meant when they finally should have been paid off, left and retired, they (and their descendants) ended up stuck instead.
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon has this as the overall villains plot, capture the entire human race to use them to rebuild Cybertron.
  • In The Unearthly (a John Carradine horror movie that was once featured on MST3K), a mad scientist has a bunch of caveman-like mutant rejects in one basement room, most of whom are apparently pushing a large electric turbine around in a circle, like the giant mill that Conan the Barbarian had to push when he was a slave. Not a terribly efficient source of power, all things considered, but at least he's putting his rejects to work!

  • Slavery is a major theme in Charles Stross' Accelerando. The very first chapter is about the precedent that prevents artificial intelligences and uploads from being treated as property. One protagonist is a male submissive; his daughter sells herself into slavery to herself to get away from her mother, taking advantage of a loophole in Islamic law. The alien and later human-made sentient corporations use minds as a currency. But manual labour itself is more or less entirely obsolete, what with The Singularity.
  • Brave New World uses the lower (read: intentionally retarded) castes to perform manual labor, and has even perfected technology to create multiple clones of the same human being (with the stated reason to ensure consistency). They have stopped developing technologies and need a large consumer base — both of which are to ensure societal stability. Of course, one reason they stopped developing technology was so that the lower castes would not be put out of work. (One of the characters claims that they'd tried a settling a fully-automated island with only the ruling class Alphas, as an experiment, and it collapsed into civil war within a year because they all wanted to be on top, while an experiment with giving people more leisure time in Ireland caused an overuse of the government-issued pleasure drug soma and general unrest since they had idle hands.)
  • In The Caves of Steel, a major source of contention between Earthlings and the Spacers (former planet colonists from Earth, now rebelled) is the refusal of Earth to stop using manual labor. Robots could do all the work better, faster and safer for only a fraction of the cost, and are one of the key reasons for the utopian societies of the Spacers, but their introduction to Earth society is being resisted (sometimes violently) because they will displace so much of the human workforce. In the Foundation Series (thousands of years later in the same 'verse), the descendants of the galaxy spanning human diaspora still rely on human labor; the Spacer colonies and their descendants settled into decadence and crippling Creative Sterility, never expanding further and eventually being forgotten.
  • In the Children of Steel novels, animorphs are indentured to the companies that create them for 50 years or until they manage to earn enough to pay the multi-million credit cost of their gestation and education... or they die, considering that they tend to work in hazardous jobs. The Egypt-themed planet Pharoah goes so far as to practice outright slavery.
  • John Peel Writer's young adult series Diadem Worlds Of Magic shows us Pixel's homeworld of Calomir. Residents live in fully automated houses with robotic servants and spend most of their time in a virtual world similar to Ready Player One. When he leaves his house one day (which he has never done before), he comes across a slave labor camp, where he is told that they make everything that those in houses consume.
  • Dune.
    • Justified in that after the Butlerian Jihad, complex autonomous machines are forbidden for millennia. Even regular old calculators are replaced by (highly paid) people called Mentats.
    • Most of these are Buddislamic slaves "harvested" from primitive worlds. The justification: their ancestors refused to fight machines, so the descendants have to pay the price. Even more, they should be happy to do their part.
    • Even the Ixians, whose entire planet is a giant underground machine factory (they are the ones who build the enormous Guild heighliners) use throngs of suboids, a specially-bred race of humans mostly incapable of independent thought. This is considering that factory machines like the ones we have don't need to have complex computer "brains", which is what they're really afraid of.
    • Interestingly enough, even Omnius in the prequels chooses to use human slaves instead of the more efficient machines, although that seems more of a status thing (i.e. putting humans below it).
  • In Jerry Pournelle's Falkenberg's Legion series and its spinoffs, the colonized planets generally have little or no industry or infrastructure, and the CoDominium keeps shipping convicts and dissidents to them whether they like it or not. In particular, Haven, Tanith, Frystaat, Thurstone, Arrarat, Hadley, and Sparta all have a permanent underclass, with degrees of unfreedom ranging from "can't vote" to "outright property".
  • A variant in the 1958 Isaac Asimov short story "The Feeling of Power", set long after even the most basic mathematics were delegated to computers and forgotten. After a technician reinvents pen-and-paper math, the Terrestrial Federation plans to replace the computer guidance systems in its missiles with human-piloted Suicide Attacks, since it's cheaper for them to teach a human to calculate trajectories than to build a computer that can.
  • In Rick Griffin's Hayven Celestia the krakun have colonized numerous star systems and enslaved many species. The White Flower II is a Generation Ship crewed by ten thousand geroo slaves overseen by a single krakun (they live a very long time) commissioner. Jakari, one of the crew, acknowledges that the use of living slaves makes sense for deep space work since they can't be hacked, but on seeing their commissioner have slaves bathe her thinks that seems excessively decadent.
  • Subverted with humans in The History of the Galaxy books, who strive to computerize anything and everything. In fact, at least one Mega-Corp creates new colonies by sending a completely-automated factory. Human workers are only added in later stages to oversee the operation and expansion. Played straight with the Insects, who had highly-advanced technology 3 million years ago but have never had the need to develop complex machines due to their enormous work force, which is created by artificially de-evolving intelligent members of their race into mindless drones. This process is completely reversible, making their race extremely versatile.
  • The Honor Harrington books are set in the year 4000 with Faster-Than-Light Travel and nanoviruses that can mind control people, yet Manpower, Incorporated is still a very profitable concern. It makes genetic slaves to order for whatever you want: sex, other entertainment, heavy labour, etc. It is only in the latest book, Torch of Freedom that people start noticing that Manpower makes no economic sense, and should have gone broke ages ago. Manpower is really a cover for the Mesan Alignment, which is bent on galactic domination through genetic engineering. Manpower's business model is generally considered to be sound, just horribly cruel. Their 'pleasure models' are highly profitable and very popular with a certain subset of the upper-classes, not to mention coming with a built-in black-mail hook. Even their industrial lines make more sense than a lot of example of this trope; they're mostly highly-skilled technicians, not manual labourersnote  (although there are some examples of manual labour as well, pointed out in-universe as inefficient). The part that starts to tip people off that there's more to them than meets the eye is how they insist on getting mixed up in things that aren't their business, when they should logically just write it off as an unavoidable expense.
  • Conflict between the ruling class and large populations of essentially slave labor is central to the setting of The Hunger Games. At the same time, said rulers possess technology to among other things control weather (at least on a local scale) and piece together human corpses into living monstrous doglike creatures.
  • A scenario like this is used in-character in Martians in Maggody, when a reporter convinces two guilible locals that stealing copies of a UFO enthusiast's computer files is the only way to prevent scary aliens from enslaving humanity and forcing everyone to work in mines. Subverted in that the reporter is not only feeding them Dead Horse Tropes to trick them into helping him, he's not even a reporter. He's an IRS agent investigating the UFO enthusiast's unreported profits from book sales and lecture fees.
  • The Myst tie-in novel The Book of D'ni introduces the Tehranee, a race of people so advanced, especially in engineering and chemistry, that they are universally indolent, wiling away their days in the pursuit of superior artistry and poesis, while the burden of building and maintaining their vast artworks is placed on a huge caste of slaves. Worse, these people's linking technology allows them to travel instantly to any planet they can describe, giving them access to basically unlimited resources of every kind, which should make all forms of slavery utterly obsolete. Thus, the Tehranee preserve slavery apparently just because it's traditional and they can't be bothered to create a better system. The culture (and the world they recruit overseers from) is utterly wiped out in the inevitable revolt.
  • In Nova by Samuel R. Delany, everyone in the future has cyborg implants that allow them to interface with machinery, letting people control any machine, from vacuum cleaners to spaceships, and pseudo-physically perform labor through them — not quite manual labor, but not using robots. While it would be possible to automate everything, it was found that people have a psychological need to connect their actions to work rather than letting robots do everything for them.
  • In David Drake's Ranks of Bronze the Galactic Federation's trade guilds regularly make use of slaves from primitive planets. Though mostly they're seen as Sex Slaves or Battle Thralls used against other primitive planets where the Federation doesn't allow guilds to use advanced weaponry on the locals.
  • In H. Beam Piper's story "A Slave is a Slave", Aditya became a feudal world of a few masters ruling a population of slaves after the fall of the interstellar Federation. One of the characters notes that slavery is economically inefficient compared to automation, but was apparently instituted to help the ruling class keep control. It gets to the point that high-class slaves are mostly running the government, however, so when it falls to an invasion they can easily overthrow and slaughter their masters, declaring a communist state.
  • Appears as an Unbuilt Trope in The Sleeper Awakes. Being written before Fordism and mass-production, the future society contains a large slave class which is initally presented this way. It's only revealed late on that in fact manual labour is almost obsolete and the future slaves simply operate the machines all day.
  • A Justified Trope in Space Vulture. It is apparently more efficient to use cheap, easily replaced slaves for certain forms of hard labor than to use expensive and hard-to-maintain robots.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • Subverted in the Rogue Squadron series. The various prisoners of Lusankya are, to their knowledge, used as slave labor in mines. In fact, the mines are a deception meant to keep the prisoners from finding the actual escape routes and the manual labor is just a form of distraction and punishment. The labor simply consists of breaking rocks up into sand anyway (which was common for useless make-work performed in real penal colonies).
    • In the EU novel, The Rise of Darth Vader, this is confirmed: Kashyyyk was punished for harboring fugitive Jedi and fighting Imperial troops sent to retrieve them. However, while the Wookiees and Mon Calamari are used for their technical skill by The Empire, it backfires on them: Admiral Ackbar started as Tarkin's slave before escaping to the Rebels, taking valuable intelligence with him and nearly killing Tarkin, while the Wookiees sabotaged everything on the Death Star they could.
    • Czerka wasn't a subsidiary of the Sith, but they sure were cozy with them during the Jedi Civil War. Wookiee labor was used in places where it would be too expensive to use and keep repairing droids, and was a revenue stream for Czerka while they found out what else the planet could get used for.
    • In the Great Galactic War era, the Empire threw almost everyone who wasn't human or Sith species (and even a few that were) into the slave pits. Some of this was just plain Fantastic Racism with the humans and Sith seeing themselves as superior to all other species (in a galaxy with over twenty million known sentient species). Part of this was to compensate for the Empire's horrible lack of infrastructure, and because organic slaves were cheaper to maintain than droids. Slaves can always make more slaves, after all. Oddly enough, this makes the batshit nuts, Ax-Crazy theocratic cabal of Force wielders the closest thing the Empire got to a meritocracy - if you had Force Sensitivity and could kill the other guy before he could kill you, it didn't matter what your origin was. The Sith Inquisitor arc takes the character from being plucked off the auction block all the way to becoming a co-dragon of the Emperor himself.
    • In the EU, the spice mines of Kessel were a penal colony worked by prison labor as punishment (especially of spice smugglers); when Luke puts an end to this, the Republic, at his suggestion, keeps the mines in operation, still worked by living beings. This time, however, the miners will be paid, and hired from species who have evolved in the same sort of environment. The dark and cold and tight confines of the tunnels make droid mining impractical.
  • Poul Anderson's Technic History: The oddity of using slave labor in the technically advanced Terran Empire is lampshaded and justified in A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows when Kossara is Made a Slave:
    Kossara: Why? I mean, when you have a worldful of machines, every kind of robot — why slaves? How can it… how can it pay?
    Other Slave Woman: What else would you do with the wicked? Kill them, even for tiny things? Give them costly psychocorrection? Lock them away at public expense, useless to themselves and everybody else? No, let them work. Let the Imperium get some money from selling them the first time, if it can.
    Kossara: What can we do that a machine can’t do better?
    Other Slave Woman: Personal services. Many kinds. Or… well, economics. Often a slave is less efficient than a machine, but needs less capital investment.
  • The Uplift universe, based on the works of David Brin, works on the principle that each sentient race will create new sentient races, from modifying lower non-sapient lifeforms. These new "client" races are then indentured to the "patron" race for a period of 100,000 years. Patron races gain wealth and status based on this practice. When the indenture period has expired, the client races are then allowed full status to uplift new species for themselves, continuing the chain of uplift. This practice has gone on for 3 billion years.
  • Vorkosigan Saga: The Jacksonians, being a Mafia-ruled planet, often engage in slavery, though their most valuable slaves are less for mundane purposes and more for exotic things like replacing the brains of clones with those of rich men who wish for a rather vampiric immortality. On Barrayar slavery is illegal, but its status as an unevenly developed civilization means that in many parts they will depend on manual labor, sometimes in nasty conditions.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • A Ciaphas Cain book subverts the usual slavery aspect- Jenit Sulla mentions the plight of the promethium refinery workers, but Veil's footnotes says the work is actually highly sought after because of how well-paid it is (note that the Imperium does use slavery on a massive scale, but the Cain novels are Lighter and Softer).
    • In William King's Space Wolf novel Ragnar's Claw, a spaceship operated by the Inquisition is tended by enslaved criminals, who are kept chained to the machines they work, and starved or tortured for disobedience. The next book's narrator contrasts it directly with a ship operated by the Space Marine chapter itself, which has an all-volunteer crew drawn from Space Wolf-protected planets.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Alien Nation: The Tectonese were slaves before their accidental arrival on Earth. It was justified in that, while their great physical strength is suited for manual labor, they're also extremely fast learners, whose jobs while enslaved usually entailed a lot of technical know-how.
  • Andromeda:
    • Some prides of Nietzscheans use slaves, or capture slaves for other people. But, since AI in Andromeda is advanced, and many episodes of the first season showed simple humanoid robots doing work on Andromeda, Nietzschean slavery is mostly a Kick the Dog convention to show how evil some Nietzschean prides are, particularly the Drago-Kazov. Though with the collapse of the Commonwealth and the loss of so many worlds, it could just be that the ability to mass produce robot servants could simply be lost.
    • There's also that the Nietzscheans like to conquer other planets, and you have to do something with the population you've just taken over. Might as well put them to work, it's cheaper than having to dig all their graves yourself.
  • A first season episode of Babylon 5 revolves around a major labor dispute with the station's dockworkers' union, which seems to use this trope. The situation is defused when Sinclair diverts funds from his military appropriation to fulfill the strikers' demands. The Senate's professional strikebreaker complains that he's being a Rules Lawyer with the Senate's order to end the strike by any means necessary, and Sinclair tells him to go jump.
  • Battlestar Galactica. Human beings in the ragtag fleet are forced to work in dangerous and unregulated mining and refining ships, but these are refugees from a civilization that turned its back on advanced cybernetics after fighting a war with the Cylons. Water extraction was apparently a dangerous occupation too, and the leaders of the fleet conscripted prisoners to do it in exchange for reduced sentences.
    • It gets better. Said advanced cybernetic organisms, the Cylons, also have a "tiered" society where mindless Centurions and non-sentient Raiders do all the land and space fighting respectively, while the humanoid "skinjobs" control the Baseship's female command oracle. This eventually comes back to bite them when the Raiders gain a degree of sentience, half the skinjobs decide the Centurions deserve full sentience, and an Enemy Civil War breaks out.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The enemies known as the Dominators were looking for slaves (and evaluated the Dulcians for that purpose) because, though they did have the robotic Quarks for labour, the Quarks were also better at fighting, so they were replacing them in the labour areas and using them in an invasion.
    • Played with in "Destiny of the Daleks": One of the Daleks' human slaves points out that Daleks do have tunnelling equipment that could do their mining work in minutes. But Daleks enjoy subjugating other races.
    • "The End of the World" is set five billion years in the future, and the space station it's set on has organic staff to do jobs like maintenance, as Rose encounters a woman who works as a plumber.
    • The Ood from the new series are described as "your basic slave race". In this case, they want to be slaves, as it gives them a purpose in life. At least, that's what they want after the standard lobotomy as part of their "manufacture" as slaves.
    • "Kerblam!": The titular Mega-Corp is required by law to maintain a minimum of 10% organic staff, but mass unemployment caused by Job-Stealing Robots is still a major issue. "Head of People" Judy mentions reviewing company policy to allow for more organic staff at the end of the episode.
  • Farscape: Rygel XVI, deposed Dominar of the (interstellar-spanning) Hynerian Empire, makes frequent references to servants and slaves in his royal court. Humorously, when visiting Earth, he states that if Earth is to be remembered for anything, it will be for the quality of our manual labor.
    • Stark's species, the Baniks, are referred to as an entire race of slaves, and it's implied that not all of the Baniks have Stark's mystical abilities. One must wonder why the Peacekeepers, Scarrans, and other militaristic, aggressive species don't just hire a few super-powered alien mercenaries (of which there are absolutely no shortage) to do the work of a hundred or a thousand near-human Baniks.
    • Farscape also raises the interesting question of whether Living Ships, particularly sentient ones, count as manual labour.
  • Firefly's relatively low tech-level makes this sort of thing more understandable; the use of indentured servants probably did cut costs for barons in The Outer Rim (tm), or was the only available option for them. And then passed the savings from using indentured labor right on to the customer!
    • Slave labor is also used for terraforming crews on various worlds; according to one slave-trader, they have a "prodigious death rate" so selling slaves is a source of steady yet dubious income.
    • Though we don't see them outright, it is implied that the Sex Slave trade is also around. When Mal discovers River in Simon's cryo-box, the first thing he thinks is happening is that Simon was smuggling her to be sold to "some Border-world baron."
  • A lampshade is hung on this in the The Outer Limits (1963) episode "A Feasibility Study", where aliens bring humans to their planet as part of an attempt to find slave workers. When one of them explains this plan to one of the humans, the human exasperatedly asks what use they could possibly have for slaves when they have the technology to move a giant chunk of a distant planet thousands of light years to their present location. The alien sheepishly responds that they consider using this technology for menial labor to be demeaning.
  • Red Dwarf: Played for Laughs. The only reason Rimmer and Lister have jobs to begin with is that repairing vending machines is considered too menial for the service robots. Lister states that the only reason they have humans repairing the vending machines is that the service robots have a better union than the human workers.
  • The Goa'uld of Stargate SG-1 love sending pickaxe-equipped slaves to their Naquadah mines. The Goa'uld may have access to advanced technology, but they also really, really like ordering people around and being worshipped. Also, they are largely unconcerned with doing things efficiently, instead preferring to do things impressively, or For the Evulz. This is explicitly said to provide the Good Guys with one of their main advantages against the Goa'uld.
    • It should be noted that the Goa'uld quite logically did not want to provide advanced technology to their slaves, so while they themselves rode around in fancy starships, their servants largely lived on dung age planets. And it's stated a few times on the show that the Goa'uld are parasites by mentality as well as by nature. They don't innovate, they steal technology (like the eponymous gates) from other civilizations. It's possible they never came across anyone using robots to steal from them. That said, there were earlier instances of Goa'uld using some automation. One pre-Anubis episode featured a Goa'uld robotic probe that was seen exploring a planet on its own, and Teal'c believed this was a brand-new development — the task might have previously been assigned to bands of Jaffa warriors.
    • However, remember the Goa'uld were not interested in power for some pragmatic purpose, but in power itself. They saw themselves as gods, after all, and competed through showmanship and intimidation as much as through things like production and military efficiency. An inefficient army of terrified slaves might impress a Goa'uld's rivals far more than an efficient machine doing the same job in half the time. The show frequently acknowledged this as the Goa'uld's key weakness.
    • Whatever their attitudes, even the Goa'uld's basic biology gives them an excellent reason to Use Manual Labor In The Future: they're obligate parasites of humanoids. Robots can't be parasitized, but slaves can. And humans, to the Goa'uld, are really just vehicles they don't happen to be riding around in at the moment, so why not put them to work in the meantime?
    • The Ori continued the trend. Even with all the knowledge of ascended beings, their ships are still built by their primitive human worshipers. This one is also justified, as the Ori quite literally gain power from worship, so their entire powerbase rests on their followers being too stupid to realize they're being conned.
  • Star Trek: Alien prisons frequently double as Gulag-style mines, like Rura Penthe in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Romulus' sister planet, Remus, seems to be one giant mine and military-industrial complex. This is so overdone in Trek and other sci-fi to the extent that if a Starfleet officer, SG-1 team member, or other hero is arrested by an alien government, we can be assured that if the penalty is not death, then we can expect that they'll spend the rest of their days mining Stock Phrases in Expo Speak mode.
    • The Federation does it to the EMH-Mark-Is (upon which Star Trek: Voyager's Doctor is based). This, when they have devices capable of disassembling matter to the subatomic level (including industrial ones, as mentioned on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), not to mention a race of friendly living ore processors (the Horta). But no, they consign outdated humanoid holograms with glorified shovels and picks to mining. This implies that the Federation either does this on a wide scale, or that they specifically modified this mine with holo-emitters to do such a thing.note  No amount of Fridge Logic can save this one.
    • An exception appears in Star Trek: The Original Series, "The Corbomite Maneuver", where Balok is the commander and sole occupant of his Sufficiently Advanced spaceship, the Fesarius, which is dozens of times the size of the Enterprise.
    • The Original Series also had "The Cloud Minders" [sic], about a planet that had actual floating cities for the ruling class, while the working class miners used hand tools and were exposed to brain-killing toxic compounds without even dust masks (this appeared to be Roddenberry's most blatant commentary on the class struggle).
    • Star Trek: Voyager: In "The 37's", an alien race capable of travelling from one side of the galaxy to the other brings back humans from 1937 as slaves. Also done in Star Trek: Enterprise's "North Star" though the distance was a lot less. Comparatively speaking.
    • Voyager also had the two-part episode "Workforce", in which a society was so starved for laborers to push buttons on fancy consoles that they resorted to kidnapping and mind-wiping the crews of passing ships for workers.
    • Cardassians did this to their Bajoran subjects, as Deep Space Nine's original function was as an orbital ore processing center. Its Mirror Universe counterpart Terok Nor still is with the exception that Terrans are being used as laborers instead of Bajorans.
  • The Star Wars live-action series Andor:
    • In a setting where droids and AI are commonplace, Syril Karn still ends up working a Soul-Crushing Desk Job in a nightmarishly large office.
    • The Empire uses its prisons as labor facilities. Cassian notes that it's actually cheaper for the Empire to use organic prisoners as slave labor because they're just arresting that many people on a daily basis. This is averted however in the post-credits scene of the Season 1 finale, in which droids are seen doing assembly work in space, suggesting the Empire saves droids for especially difficult and clandestine work such as the Death Star.
  • A non-future version comes up in the Tales of the Gold Monkey episode "Black Pearl". Those Wacky Nazis are assembling an atomic weapon and preparing it for testing using enslaved islanders. When one Nazi complains about the inefficiency of this, as well as the use of torches for light when electric generators are readily available, the other says that it appeals to his sense of drama.
  • Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles implies that Skynet's resources are actually extremely limited - which makes sense since a nuclear war would not only wipe out key infrastructure for Skynet such as mines and smelters, but also eliminate much of the upper-tier technology that was Skynet. In such a case, human slave labor might actually make sense.

  • Played for laughs in Jonathan Coulton's song Chiron Beta Prime...
    ...where we're working in a mine
    For our robot overlords
    Did I say overlords?
    I meant protectors
    Merry Christmas, from Chiron Beta Prime

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Everyone except the Necrons and the Tau use manual labour. The Imperium has a phobia of effective robotics because A.I. destroyed their civilization once. The rebellion of the 'Men of Iron,' Man's robotic soldiers, was a major factor in the Age of Strife which ended their Glory Days, destroyed a vast majority of their technology, and preceded the founding of the Imperium. The Eldar need to keep themselves busy all the time to keep their psychic minds from paying attention to Slaanesh (and they don't do dangerous industrial work anyway; everything is made by wraithbone). The Orks are just... limited. Chaos forces and Dark Eldar use slaves because it's more fun that way. Schizo Tech is common in 40K; it's the only place where your starship is powered by plasma reactors but you need thousands of press-ganged deckhands to load its guns. With ropes. While being whipped. Most of the manufacturing is done by 'servitors', which are lobotomised cyborgs used for manual labour (although they are often equipped with heavy weaponry in combat situations), made up of heretics, criminals, etc. (though most are actually just human blanks grown in vats; servitors use human brains as Wetware CPU, due to AI ban), then completely mind wiped, drugged and many of the organs/limbs replaced with more 'efficient' robotic equivalents. In 40k, cybernetics is ubiquitous and easier to control (as in, one of the least grimdarked-to-hell elements in the setting) than the aforementioned Iron Men. The Forge Worlds (run entirely by the Adeptus Mechanicus) are responsible for producing the monumental amounts of equipment needed daily by the Imperium of Man, have a relatively small human population, for example Mars (The first human colony and the headquarters of the Adeptus Mechanicus) has a population of 20 billion, while the Hive World Ichar IV (before it was consumed by the Tyranids) had 500 billion and produced far less (particularly when the Genestealers showed up).
    • It doesn't help that said Adeptus Mechanicus acts like an autonomous Mega-Corp that monopolizes any advanced technology, from Humongous Mecha to simple automated systems, in the Imperium. Any independent scientist or research organization that gets too popular will be forcibly bought, assimilated or killed by the Adeptus Mechanicus, who think that advanced archaeotech obtained from Precursors are better than independent innovation. They entirely have the capability to build an army of automated servitors to do the fighting for the Imperium, only that they think they're the only ones in the entire universe who have any idea about something arcane and forgotten called "Science", and hence hate to share it openly with other factions of the Imperium, who in turn don't fully trust the Mechanicus and consider them as borderline heretics who get away with it because the Mechanicus answers only to the Emperor himself, and are responsible for personally maintaining the Emperor's life-support system. This forces said other factions to instead rely on manual Mooks which are far cheaper than hiring servitors and a Techpriest who will maintain the automated systems.
    • Ultimately, all of this is reflective a curious (and abhorrent) form of dealing with scarcity. Due to the constant war, constant strain on resources, overpopulation, and loss of technology, the Imperium has quickly found that the one resource it does have for free are human bodies that keep breeding more and more like a bunch of tyranids. Thus, while it may be more efficient in the instant case (i.e. an individual starship) to build an autoloader for your skyscraper shells, on the galactic scale, the materials needed to build such a loader are far, far more desperately needed to maintain the already-existing archaeotech, and/or build lasguns and M2 Browning heavy machine guns (yes, the 100 year old design is still in use, more or less unchanged, 38,000 years in the future). There are practical benefits as well. An autoloader that is damaged in combat will probably not be brought back online soon enough to continue the fight, but if a work gang is killed off the rubble can be cleared and the workers replaced in a matter of minutes.
    • On Necromunda, a hive world with its' own spin-off game based on gang wars, the one resource that the planet has in abundance is manpower. As a result, the massive population of the Necromundan hives spend the majority of their lives labouring away in the manufactories to produce the planet's manufactured goods. This is taken even further in the underhive where the lack of resources means the population have to partake in backbreaking labour just to survive, something that has resulted in a thriving slave trade. In the first couple of editions of the game, the Pit Slaves were a gang made up of escaped slaves who had been fitted with crude cybernetics to make them more efficient at their roles.
  • GURPS Reign of Steel has many of the AI Zoneminds keeping human slaves in a variety of ways and for a variety of purposes. This makes sense in many applications since robots are expensive to produce but human vermin are cheap and disposable. Notable cases include:
    • Zone New Delhi and Zone Denver, which use human brain tissue or even whole brains as a substitute for expensive electronics to run lesser robots.
    • Zone Moscow, which uses human agents to collect what remains of the libraries and artwork of human civilization.
    • Zone Washington, where the human inhabitants believe themselves to be the sole remaining human-controlled nation and labour mightily to maintain the strength of their military robots to keep it that way - controlled, of course, by their 'tame' AI that in actuality runs the government.
    • Some of the Zoneminds that have instead chosen to ruthlessly eradicate all humans immediately are actually at an economic disadvantage to their bretheren because of it, both due to the lack of cheap labor and the extra resources they've expended in the extermination efforts.
  • Slave traffic is mentioned in Traveller. It is illegal in the Imperium, though the Sword Worlds have a judicial slavery as punishment for murder, treason, and other heinous crimes (which makes one amused at the Irony of the fate of a Space Pirate caught while trying to sell off his captives). It is not always made clear what the slaves are expected to do. However the Schizo Tech of Traveller at least sort of justifies it.
  • This is almost to be expected in Rifts, given the Schizo Tech of the setting. Throughout much of North America, people are often enslaved or indentured, turned into cyborgs and used as miners. The Coalition doesn't use slave-borgs, but nonhumans are sometimes enslaved and employed in the mega-cities or the 'burbs. In magic-dominated places, meanwhile, slavery is widespread and slaves are used for any and every task, be it labor, warfare, Gladiator Games, sex or food (the latter is a big one, since a lot of alien evils do it to cement their Card-Carrying Villain status).
  • In Fading Suns due to the Church's attitude towards technology there is a great deal of demand for manual labor. The Muster Guild specializes in providing workers though most of them are temps or outright slaves while members get cushy supervisor positions.
  • In Eclipse Phase identured servitude was revived as a means for the Mega Corps and their Hypercorp successors to obtain cheap labor for their off-world colonies, it was accepted due to the expense of interplanetary travel, especially since the fastest means is to upload your ego into a new body at your destination. After The Fall there were suddenly billions of disembodied infugees willing to sign anything if it meant eventually having flesh again. The practice is condemned by most Autonomists, excepting the anarcho-capitalist Extropians who also practice debt slavery.
  • Paranoia has ridiculously advanced robotics, but people who have worked their way up to the highest security clearances replace robot servants with human because robot servants are just so low-grade.
  • In BattleTech, human labor is far cheaper than machine labor, particularly in the Periphery where civilization never truly recovered from the Reunification War five to six centuries ago. The tiny Marian Hegemony that styles itself after Ancient Rome is the only nation that condones slavery and even has made a habit of carrying out slave raids on its neighbors. The Clans, meanwhile, have a Caste system where they have Technicians (responsible for keeping all military equipment like Battlemechs and warships functional) and at the bottom, Laborers, who take care of every menial function like growing food or performing factory work. Laborers have effectively no rights in Clan society, they're regularly forced to meet high quotas (regardless of how realistic said quotas are), they get minimal food or medical supplies allocated to them, and they often lack any leasure time or forms of entertainment. And it's noted that around the Inner Sphere there are many planets that are home to religious sects of one form or another that reject modern technology and make a living as subsistence farmers while avoiding anything that uses electricity.
  • In the Real Time board game Space Alert, players can perform exactly two actions, they can move or press buttons. Nothing on the ship works without a member of the crew pressing a button, which in turn can only be located in the same compartment as the device said button controls (hence the whole movement mechanic).
    • The game doubles down on the need for manual labour by requiring that players regularly jiggle the mouse attached to the main computer least the screen saver activate and shut the ship down for a turn!
    • The ship also comes with Battle Droids that can accompany players to repel boarders, but can't be ordered to press the freaking buttons.

    Video Games 
  • Perhaps one of the earliest examples of this in video games is from Marathon, in which some of the slaves hack into the titular ship's A.I.s to hack and destroy them from the inside (as one of them is the only hope for the ship, and one plans to drive them to extinction), some are treated as worthless cannon fodder and are fired upon in deadly combat situations for fun, and others are seemingly tolerated combatants.
  • Half-Life 2 has the "unwillingly made into cyborgs" version with Stalkers, people who have their limbs and most of their organs removed and replaced with mechanical equivalents, and appear to be brainwashed/programmed to near-nonsentience. The "transhuman" arm of the Combine Overwatch also appears to be a lesser version of this; the changes made are less radical and they retain more intelligence, however the process is voluntary. This was rather the point as far as Well-Intentioned Extremist Breen was concerned; it was either prove humanity useful in some way (any way no matter how desperate) or face extinction.
  • In Empire Earth, no matter what age the player advances to, workers will still chop trees with axes, mine minerals with picks and carry everything in a wheelbarrow. Even when soldiers are using giant mechas to move around.
  • Lampshaded in Red Faction, where stereotypical futuristic Martian mine slave protagonist muses to himself about how robots should be able to do nearly all of the hard work themselves. It then turns out that robots do perform most of the real mining labor, and the human-heavy mining operation is really just a front for the Big Bad Evilutionary Biologist to get test subjects for his (honestly pretty pointless-looking) secret experiments away from the prying eyes of Earth's government. Note that RF originated as an entry in the Descent series, the premise of which centers around futuristic mines run entirely by robots (which have their own problems).
  • In a Gaia Online event, each of the four towns was assigned two fantasy races to assist them in the upcoming "Rejected Olympics". The futuristic town of Aekea got Blizzard Style Orcs, in addition to the previously introduced Aliens. The new aliens were created by leftover Applied Phlebotinum that the real aliens left behind, while the orcs were Hand Waved away by saying they were a newly discovered species that have been hired as manual laborers. One character even wonders if the orcs are actually being payed for their work. ...Of course, there's just one problem. AEKEA IS A CITY FULL OF ROBOTS. It's the only city that's even allowed to have robots, as they were banned everywhere else after some war that no one talks about. But the fact that you are enslaving orcs to effectively do something that could be accomplished by a tow truck or a pulley is a bit confusing...
  • In EVE Online the Amarr Empire makes a wide use of slaves. Although they could easily replace most of their slaves with advanced technology, like the other nations have done, the Amarr believe that, by enslaving "lesser" peoples like the Minmatar, they are saving these people's souls. It's no surprise that the Amarr are quite far behind technologically when compared to the Gallente and especially the Caldari.
  • The second Crusader game, No Regret, makes a few things clear. First, the most valuable mineral in the solar system is found almost exlusively on the moon—almost half of known reserves are there. Second, the WEC ships mostly political prisoners there, to get them out of the way and do mining with minimal safety while surrounded by heavily-armed guards. Third, the game's own lore states that while semi-sentient guard robots and maintenance bots are present, they are apparently quite expensive, compared to unprotected laborers operating nonsentient machinery with guns pointed at their heads. Played straight, justifed, and subvereted all at once.
  • Subverted in Tales of Symphonia when you eventually learn the slaves in the Magitek human ranches aren't there for any real work. The bad guys just need them to waste away while the implanted exspheres feed off of their anguish.
  • Mass Effect:
    • The franchise is notable for almost entirely averting this trope: almost every single person you see with a job is either a highly skilled technical worker/manager (e.g. engineers, scientists, programmers, financial analysts, stockbrokers, financial managers, doctors, lawyers), or in a service position where a personal touch is the entire point (e.g. waiters, beauticians, personal care assistants, chefs, guards, teachers, counselors, social workers, salesmen). The manual labor is done by fleets of robots, drones, and hyper-efficient nanofabricators. At a few points, such as in his conversations with the "administrative assistant" Kelly or an unnamed asari shopkeeper on the Citadel, Shepard can outright ask why they still have jobs when a simple virtual intelligence or robot can accomplish it nearly as well for cheaper. The answer? Their real jobs are talking to people to make them feel comfortable and adding a personal touch to the product or service, because people will pay more for it even if it technically changes little, thus adding value (a real life economic phenomenon known as mass customization). This is also shown in the conversations with Khalisah al-Jilani: the job of "cameraman" is now occupied by a flying semi-autonomous camera robot, but there's still a reporter in front of the camera because people prefer it that way. The very few species that do still use organics for manual labor are specifically noted to be odd for it:
    • The batarians still practice slavery, despite a being starfaring civilization for centuries. They argue that slavery is a "cultural right" of their people; the Council doesn't buy it. It's made clear multiple times that this (along with other policies like autarky) has made them an economic basketcase.
    • The kett of Mass Effect: Andromeda do this with some of their captives, if they decided they're not "worthy" of Exaltation, working them to death in camps. This in addition to actual mechanical labor they use elsewhere. On the plus side, it gives the workers a chance of escaping or getting rescued. In the ketts' case, the reason is religious: they exalt organic forms above machinery, to the point that even their warships are biomimetic.
  • World of Warcraft:
    • The Pit of Saron instance takes place in/around a large open-pit mine being worked on by undead miners and slaves captured from the Alliance and Horde armies. Fair enough. But when the players lead the Inevitable Slave Revolt against the overseer, you might wonder - why would the Scourge bother with living slaves when they could just kill them, raise them from the dead, and have undead slaves? Undead don't need to eat, after all, and mindless skeletons won't be plotting revenge any time soon.
    • The Silvermoon City tailor shop has a basement that is filled with leper gnomes working looms to manufacture textiles. They sleep on thin rugs on the floor, cry at times, and are watched over the store owner's succubus minion.
  • Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2: Yuri's Revenge has Yuri's faction practise slave labour, even though Yuri has genetic manipulation, mind control technology and a laser-armed UFO unit that efficiently extracts ore from enemy refineries. However, consider that Yuri is a madman, and the "Slave Miner" vehicle's driver lampshades the act by saying "Slaves are cheap!". It also gives the other two nations even more reasons to fight Yuri, and freeing the slaves is actually possible.
  • In Elite you could trade in slaves, though it would mean your legal status would take a hit. You could even accidentally pick up slaves if you scooped up an escape pod from an enemy ship (and there was no way to free them, or hand them over to the cops). Open Source Remake Oolite fixed this by offering a small reward paid out from the survivor's insurance policy instead, and occasionally a bounty from the local police if they turn out to be a wanted felon, but you can still do it anyway if you feel like being a dick.
  • In the sequel, Elite Dangerous, the democratic/corporate Federation is heavily automated, while the patronage/oligarchy Empire makes heavy use of 'Imperial slaves' for manual labor. Imperial slavery is essentially a form of Indentured Servitude where people under debt sell themselves for a set period to a buyer, who manages their expenses, health, and gives them an agreed-upon workload; this is generally considered to be a spartan, but livable arrangement. However, at the borders of Imperial space the slaves may be traded to shady Commanders who fly off to Federal and Independent space to sell them on the totally unregulated black market, and there are several instances of the Empire invading systems and taking the citizens as Imperial Slaves.
  • In Galactic Civilizations 2 the Drengin and Korath have slave pits instead of factories. They claim that slavery is an inherent part of their culture, and their society would collapse without it. Then again, they also see brutal torture of said slaves as entertainment. Their science buildings also work by sucking the brainpower (and even thoughts and dreams) out of slaves' minds.
    • This is actually the reason why the Drengin and the Korath enter into an Enemy Civil War. Thaks to the Dread Lords' influence, the Korath decide to wipe out any non-Drengin from the galaxy (they actually succeed in wiping out two races). However, since the Drengin economy hinges on slaves, they can't have the Korath be doing that.
    • The backstory to the first game even shows the lengths the Drengin will go to in order to get slaves. Millennia before the Arceans made First Contact with humans, the Drengin were sending out sublight probes to other stars to map them out. They discovered the Torians and decide to conquer them. Since, until the humans invented the hyperdrive, all races had to use static hypergates, they spent 75,000 years dragging a hypergate from Drengi to Toria and an additional 5 years for the conquest fleet to arrive after activating the gate. Now that's commitment! Of course, it also made it easy for the Torians to overthrow them. They simply shut down the gate after fighting off the planetary garrison, preventing any reinforcements from being sent. It's heavily implied that this would have been the fate of the humans had they chosen to activate their gate when the Arceans sent them the blueprints.
  • In FTL: Faster Than Light, the Mantis are known to use Engi slaves to make up for their lack of technological ability, and a few random events have you deal with slavers.
  • Though it isn't set in the future, the context of the backstory to Assassin's Creed is this; despite inventing kinetic shields and earthquake regulators, the precursors bioengineered human slaves as a genetically similar offshoot with dumber and more fertile populations, then sent them to the factories. Social prestige seems to be the main motivation as they end up posing as gods. One other factor was an accidental discovery that could have changed everything; when purely enslaved by the apple and ordered to concentrate, a group of humans can collectively become a Reality Warper, outright rewriting the laws of physics in a small area. It's implied that the precursors allowed for a massive human population boom in an attempt to construct a supermassive reality-warping human-powered machine to make them true gods. Of course, Adam and Eve saw it as unnecessary slavery...
  • Prevalent in Piratez, because hiring Runts is way easier than buying complex machinery and Ubers make excellent Runts.
  • In Stellaris Authoritarian and/or Xenophobic empires can legalize slavery, and depending on how the empire sets itself up, slaves might be more effective and efficient than actual robotic workers. (Though for anti-AI Spiritualists, it's a moot point.) There's also a variation in Force Labor purge, in which the slaves are deliberately worked to death; here, mass-scale death is the goal, the work they do before dying is just a side benefit.
  • Played straight in Deus Ex, its sequel, and its /prequels. Despite the series' penchant for getting in-depth on the effects of Transhumanism and artificial intelligence on society and politics (especially on the basis of social class and traditional mores), there is total silence on the subject of automation, even in the game's otherwise extensive worldbuilding. Robots are portrayed as highly capable killing machines and police units as early as 2027— yet bars, clubs, and other services would still be staffed by humans as late as Invisible War, which is set in 2072 when nanotechnology and advanced AI are increasingly common.
  • In Rimworld, slavery is a common fate on the titular rimworlds for anyone captured by pirates or raiders. While the player's colony can't enslave anyone in the vanilla game (Game Mods are a different story) they can sell prisoners into slavery, either to caravans or orbital traders for money, or to the Empire in the Royalty expansion for royal favor. Slaves can also be purchased from slaver caravans and orbital ships, but they are treated as new colonists who are freed immediately upon being purchased.
    • The Ideology expansion now merrily includes slavery as a player-based institution, including belief systems that tolerate, condone, or even compel slavery. The fact that some cultures must take slaves actually makes the fact that slavery exists at all make much more sense, although the need for slave labour is still justified in that unmodified Rimworld, even with both expansions, has almost no automation. For a good reason: the robots that they did end up making a couple thousand years ago were called "mechanoids" and are one of the reasons the Rim consists of Planets of Crapsack World.
    • The Biotech DLC allows you to avert the use of manual labour with controllable mechanoids, though in most cases a skilled human pawn is superior, and human pawns are far cheaper to maintain.

  • In the Terinu universe, the hyper-advanced Varn Dominion used slaves a great deal, but it was regarded as culturally necessary since their gods had declared they were the Master Race and deserved to rule over the lesser races and have their every whim catered to. Five hundred years later, the good guys' successor government permits the use indentured service as punishment for criminals (with one Jerkass Protagonist declaring it was "Cheaper than letting them sit in a cell and eat up public funds"!), and just good old-fashioned corporate evil as isolated industrial facilities bind their workers through indenture and selling their souls to the company store.

    Web Original 
Almost half of the population of the Harmonic Federation is made of Fifth-class citizens. Those not personal slaves to First or Second class citizens toil in factories with intentionally minimal automation. However this is effectively a parallel economy for just sustaining the slaves themselves - Federation's Kardashev Two infrastructure, especially parts that build and maintains warships, is automated to the point where human oversight is only needed to not make humans feel like they aren't in control. Fifth-class citizens basically exist just so that rest of the Federation has an underclass to look down upon.
  • There is possibly some Fridge Horror in the way that class system is, on paper, a meritocracy. In practice however, high-class citizens make sure their children have every advantage possible up to an uncluding biological and cybernetic augmentation. Meanwhile fifth-class citizens not only are blocked from both due to financial and legal reasons, even [[Thoughtcrime literacy is prohibited]].

    Western Animation 
  • An episode of Futurama has the crew enslaved on an Egyptian analogue planet, where thousands of people are worked to death for laughs to build huge monuments and tombs. Bender gets himself named Pharaoh and takes it up to eleven.
    • In another episode, Hermes and LaBarbara Conrad unwittingly vacation at a forced-labor "spa". However, the episode also subverts the trope: Hermes is freed after he uses his organizational skills to rearrange things so that all the labor can be done by "a single Australian man," making all the other slaves redundant.
    • Possibly justified in the Futurama universe since almost all technology has highly advanced AI for some reason, and therefore can't/shouldn't replace slaves. Even the seemingly inanimate appliances like the television and ceiling fan expressed sentience during the robot uprising episode. Even a singing card has intelligence.
    • Inverted in more ways than one when the gang go to a museum about life in the Twentieth Century. They describe the "automacar" as being constructed in factories manned by "primitive robots". By which they mean robots dressed like cavemen who say "Ooga-booga" as they hit cars with clubs. Apparently we used manual labor in the past but our manual labor was robot labor that was still manual labor because it was sentient.
  • In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Krang is the proud owner of the Technodrome, with all the Mecha-Mooks he can use. He and Shredder still force Bebop and Rocksteady to do all the cleaning work around the Technodrome, even though they are lazy and incompetent enough that it would seem more efficient to have the work done by robots.
    • On the other hand, it kept them out of trouble -mostly- when they weren't needed for anything else. Bored, restless Dumb Muscle is never a good thing.
  • The Jetsons have robots and automated gizmos coming out their ears, but George Jetson still has to go into the office to push a button repeatedly. (Jane and the kids occasionally complain about housework or chores, also done by pressing a button.) Granted this is kinda Played for Laughs, but it does seem that if any job could be done by a robot this would be it. Since we're never shown any real details, it's possible that the timing of pushing the button requires human discretion. It's heavily implied that this is a deliberate effort to keep humans working, even though the machines can run themselves.
  • In an episode of The Simpsons, men are toiling in caves deep below the nuclear power plant walking in circles turning a wheel. We follow the crankshaft higher and higher through a series of smaller rods and complicated gears until we reach the cafeteria where all that effort is turning the dessert display.
  • In the Rick and Morty episode "The Ricklantis Mixup," we see Ricks employed in the Simple Rick's Wafer Cookie factory standing at a machine pulling a lever all day, even though any one of the Ricks could automate that task in about ten seconds flat. Maybe this is why one of the Ricks goes postal and kills his manager halfway through the episode.

  • Many people just prefer the handmade version, and handmade crafts are considered staples of high luxury, even if they have to make it themselves. There are TV shows, books and even art projects all about doing things the "old fashioned way" or "as they did back in ___". Oddly enough, people are using 3-D printers to make hand tools, overlapping with Schizo Tech.
    • Cosplay is a good example, most cosplayers will make their own costumes. Ditto Goth, Gothic Lolita and other "do it yourself" fashions promoting hard work and original looks. They will mock those whose hardest work is swiping the credit card. Some cosplay/costuming competitions are limited to those who did the work themselves (or, in the case of child fans, got Mom or Dad to do the work) and ban purchased costumes.
    • In general, making clothing will be hard to fully automate until our robots can manipulate a needle human-style and visually perceive fabric in three-dimensional space - there are basic tasks even a human-operated sewing machine isn't really good enough for. In some ways costume making emulates the production of "high fashion" (the designs which eventually get modified for machine sewing and trickle down to department store exclusive collections and the like) and given the manpower and budgets behind those outfits, learning to sew actually is the economical option, even if your goals are more realistic.
    • Cooking is another. Cooking is a complex art and science that actually requires a lot of skill, and making an automat for every single recipe will be costly. The '50s promised us a Jetsons' kitchen complete with Food Pills— but many of the "labor-saving devices" never really caught on, except the blender and food processor. What's more, better understanding of nutrition and human physiognomy makes food pills impractical (some basic nutrients will always require a larger-than-pill mass, and human gastric stretch receptors, which help indicate fullness, wouldn't be triggered by itty-bitty pills).
  • The manufacture of aircraft, ships or any large structure with tight spaces has to be done by hand. Robots can't fit into tight spaces and then make sense of bundles of wires and cables. Welding, riveting and painting in tight spaces or on irregular surfaces is still beyond the grasp of current robotics. But robots are getting better every year.
  • Taking advantage of their food being very heavily standardized, McDonald's once experimented with a robotic kitchen, going so far as to build a Hong Kong outlet that used one. They scrapped the idea, but not the outlet, when the construction and maintenance turned out to be far more costly than employees. Their one fully automated outlet is still there, as a minor tourist attraction, but building more isn't worthwhile with today's technology. Likewise, "vending machine" restaurants are seldom seen today even as curiosities, because of the complexity of food preparation. Thus it's cheaper to train maneuverable high school kids than to maintain the equipment. Same thing goes for having a small, well-trained staff that makes complex food. These people will usually be harder to replace, or wield more clout during employer-employee conflicts. It's just more convenient with fairly untrained, unorganized kids, most of whom do not expect to work there more than a few years, if that.
  • Agriculture is an interesting mixed case. The invention of new technology dramatically reduced the total agricultural workforce as only 2% of current workers in the US are employed in agriculture compare to 40% in the year 1900. Most notably, the combine harvester can perform the tasks of reaping, threshing, gathering and winnowing into a single process. However, some crops like tomatoes are too delicate to be harvested by machines, meaning that farmhands are still used. So while machines have reduced the need for manual labor, there will still be a need for farmhands in niche roles.
  • There is the website iFixit, dedicated to tearing apart and fixing any electronic device. Devices are graded from 1 to 10. So that cool gadget made in a factory by robots can be repaired by hand at home.
  • An interesting historical case: Ancient Greece. Towards the later parts of its history, this society seemed to be teetering on the brink of an industrial revolution, but never quite made the plunge, instead sticking with slavery and other traditional, labor-intensive methods of production. Ancient Greece had a great deal of scientific thinkers, the capacity to build complex mechanical devices, and even developed a simple steam engine. The steam engine especially, if developed further and perfected, could have been used to simplify a lot of labor-intensive jobs, as it was when the Industrial Revolution finally did roll around. But the Ancient Greeks saw it as nothing more than a curious toy.
    • Those that did think the steam engine was great tended to not be taken seriously. One guy was pretty sure that Hero's Engine could be used to predict the weather. Given that the boiling point of water varies depending on air pressure, and that quite a bit of the weather is dependent on moving high/low pressure fronts, he was probably actually on to something. Ancient Greece also had several factors working against it that are considered a requirement for industrialization. First, their technology base was actually very low, to the point that they had little access to high grade iron for a good steel industry. Second, they had no real centralized polity to ram the reforms down their throats. Third, they would not have been able to afford it even if they did have a fully centralized authority. They actually saw the potential, but wrote it off as a case of Awesome, but Impractical. Even the Romans, who could have possibly done it to a limited degree, would not have been able to fully pull it off for the first and third reasons respectively. The nations of Europe in the late 18th century which kicked the industrial revolution off actually had more concentrated wealth individually than the entire Roman Empire at its height.
    • Consider also the medieval Chinese, who invented so many amazing feats of chemistry, engineering and metallurgy yet somehow were eclipsed by the western European nations and remained a bit of an industrial backwater for hundreds of years. Though much of this was cultural, as Confucianism taught rigorous adherence to the status quo. The Chinese were never able to separate philosophy from religion and they were never able to invent the scientific method. They did have all the ingredients for the scientific and technological revolution, but they never made the final breakthrough. Once that was introduced from outside, however, China has rapidly risen to the spearhead of technology.
    • Jared Diamond, an anthropologist, argues in his book Guns, Germs and Steel that many factors contribute to why Europe developed industry ahead of other places, including ones like China that actually had many more native inventions. First, there's the resources on hand as mentioned above-can't industrialize if you don't have the right metals easily available. Second, politics-if you have a number of separate states, an inventor has more options when attempting to sell his idea. China once had the best sea ships in the world, but the Emperor decided they were unneeded since they already had everything, and discontinued them. By contrast, European states were almost constantly fighting and competing over resources. Thus someone like Columbus could still get backing from Spain when he was rejected first by his native Genoa and then Portugal. Similarly, Da Vinci worked for the Duke of Milan, and then the French, who had conquered Milan. China was a unified empire with everything centrally controlled, and their government distrusted the potentially disruptive changes inventions could bring, so most languished.
    • The Chinese in the Southern Song dynasty which lasted between 1127 to 1279 hold the distinction as coming the closest of any pre-industrial society to starting a full-fledged industrial revolution. During this era, the Southern Song saw the rise of steel & iron making, coal refining (and burning), mass produced goods, drilling for oil, joint-stock companies, widespread laissez-faire proto-capitalist entrepreneuralism, paper money, and even an early printing press 600 years before the Gutenberg movable type. Mechanical machinery was toyed with constantly, and some philosophers dwelled on the possibility of machinery replacing need for artisans and well-off peasants, the closest thing the Chinese had to a middle class. If the Southern Song lasted for even 50 more years, they could have started an industrial revolution. However, a combination of a lack of a middle class (society was still highly stratified between peasants and the elite) as well as the Mongol invasion & subjugation prematurely ended the Chinese's proto-industrialization and caused them to permanently slip behind Europe and the Near East until the 1900s. Thus, to the Chinese of the Song Dynasty, this trope essentially came true.
  • Autoloaders vs human loaders in tanks — a subject of heated debate. As the choice between them is a matter of Opposing Combat Philosophies, they're also a Flame Bait for Youtube War "Experts" of every shadenote . To list the points of both sides:
    • The NATO school of thought looks down on autoloaders because they don't actually provide a greater rate of fire than a strong 19-year-old, especially for the immediate follow-up shot (the loader can keep that one ready on his knees)note . Additionally, the loader is an extra pair of hands that can assist with maintenance, sentry duties, etc., not to mention the critical-to-morale functions of brewing tea, making soup, and so on. And having an autoloader doesn't mean no loading is done: the crew not only have to load the shells (and, in case of most Soviet designs discussed here, the separate propellant charges as well) into the autoloader first, but the autoloader only houses a portion (22-28) out of 40-50 shells carried in the tank. The rest is housed in conventional lockers, which are crammed into hard-to-reach spots throughout the hull, and have to be manually loaded by the commander or the gunner (which is awkward even in theory). The biggest problem NATO designers have however is that autoloaders interfere with their measures to reduce the risks of magazine detonation. Modern-generation MBTs, most prominently the M1 Abrams, place the majority of main gun shells into the extended back of the turret (the bustle), equipped with blow-out panels and sealed behind armoured doors in order to prevent the explosion of shells from instakilling the crew. Soviet autoloaders on the other hand are located under the turret, or, on the T-64 and T-80, in a circle under the turret ring, making them near-impossible not to hit and leaving the crew no chance of survival.
    • The Soviet school of design was informed heavily by WWII experience: although the German Überpanzer like the Panther and the Tiger could snipe Soviet tanks at extreme ranges, they were notoriously unreliable and few in number, owing to their bloated size and mass - the "medium" Panther was larger (and heavier) than the Soviet IS-2 heavy tank - and so the bulk of Heer armour was made of Panzer IV and StuG III, which could be effective but certainly weren't as hardy. This meant that the Soviets would keep capitalizing on the advantages of the T-34-85 (a fast and cheap Jack of All Stats) and then apply the same logic to NATO armour, expecting to counter their super-duper machines with quantity, surprise, speed, combined arms and deep operations, denying them a head-on engagement in which NATO armour would exploit its advantages. Not that it had that many — a Soviet tank of the Cold War was armed with a bigger gun and equally thick armour compared to a NATO design of the same generation, while being lighter (modern Western MBTs are approaching 70 t; ComBlock designs are no heavier than 45 t) and hence more agile and economically and logistically affordable. The sole reason for this was because, as it became apparent in WWII, the Soviets ruthlessly cut down on interior volume — while Western tanks are cramped, they seem ludicrously roomy in comparison with Soviet-school vehicles that are near Clown Car levels, which means that the crew, naturally, sit on top of ammo and fuel, and have by regulation to be shorter than 185 cm (which means that someone around 170 cm is actually comfortable). An autoloader does not worsen the safety situation, but helps shrink mass and size further by eliminating another member of the crew, and it was the Soviet mantra that the best protection is not being hit at all; also, the human loader would eventually get tired, and was a lot less effective in the more confined interior, as the pre-autoloader but equally small T-55 and T-62 show. Furthermore, Soviet tanks were expected to actively maneuver rather than snipe targets from hull-down positions (as NATO tanks were likely to be doing), and had poorer suspension; it is considerably harder to load the gun manually when the vertical stabilizer keeps thrusting the breech up and down. Additionally, the later-pattern autoloader on the T-72 is significantly less vulnerable: the shells are arranged not in a cylinder under the turret ring, but in a circle of the floor, and hidden at the very bottom of the vehicle behind an extra layer of armor - hence anything capable of triggering a magazine detonation likely destroys the tank anyway. As to the spare shell lockers, the new T-90 variants do move them into a bustle storage compartment - and Hatedom run afoul of the bustle haters, who believe that any large turret bustle is extremely likely to get hit in combat, whereas the baseline T-90 has a compact (short and broad) turret, and it is impossible to hit anything but the heavily-protected front from a sector of 60°. Also, many Abrams loaders jam the doors open, completely nullifying the protective qualities of the system - to keep the rate of fire up. Finally, autoloaders are believed to be more usable in future tanks for two aspects: firstly, as the Lensman Arms Race is liable to continue, tank guns will likely get even bigger: as of 1990, there were prototypes of prototypes a Leopard 2 variant with a 140 mm cannon and a T-80 variant with a 152 mm gun. Both of these exceeded the practical abilities of human loaders and were fitted with autoloaders — much like modern 152-155 mm artillery, which uses at least partially mechanized loading instead of two loaders per gun. The second element of prospective Russian tanks is removing the crew from the turret altogether, settling the issue completely by using a front-mounted capsule tough enough to survive the destruction of the rest of the vehicle — while even further reducing the size of the turret.
    • And then there are the French, who Take a Third Option out of their love for Glass Cannon tanks: the Leclerc stores its ammo in the bustle, AND mounts an autoloader inside of it, and, as a bonus, it's even faster-firing than the Soviet equivalents.
    • For a relatively even-handed overview, Chieftain of World of Tanks fame discusses the pros and cons of autoloader systems in this video.
  • Large Chinese electronics manufacturer Foxconn, which produces a lot of various gadgets for big name brands, including all Apple products, traditionally employs manual labour on its assembly plants, specifically because putting a lot of former Chinese peasants, orphans and abandoned little girls into a sweatshop and running them till they drop is much, much cheaper than investing into a First World Japanese-style automated assembly line. This also means that Chinese "Gross Domestic Product = economic development" is actually a misunderstanding: GDP is only the average value of the products that go out of the country (e.g. Apple products and cheap toys), while real economic development is more accurately measured through Per Capita Income (as in, the actual profits for the average prole), and guess what, said Chinese peasants and little girls have almost the same minimum wage PCI as third world countries, while the GDP profits goes to executives at Foxconn and then Apple.

    As time passed on, though, overall Chinese economic growth meant that fewer and fewer people are willing to tolerate harsh working conditions and meager pay, so the labor unrest became a problem for the company. Add to that the calls for product boycotting from the labor action groups and displeasure from the brands themselves, who are conscious about their image — and cue the news that Foxconn is investing astronomical sums into the automated assembly. Robots may be more expensive in the long run, but they don't make a fuss and don't beat the managers half to death.
  • Sailing. No matter the size of the boat, anything from hauling the sails to changing the tack is done manually. That's because yachts are usually cramped boats with little space for extra machinery, and because technology has a tendency to fail when least expected. Besides that, crew members are easily movable ballast where extra weight is needed. Back when steam had only started to make inroads, huge crews that sailing ships had were their second main disadvantage after their reliance on the weather. Steamboats might've needed a place for coal and thus carry less cargo, but they could be manned by twenty sailors instead of more than hundred like a sailboat of same size. So the mechanical winches were installed, sail plans simplified, emergency engines mounted, and last cargo-carrying sail ships actually had remarkably small crews, not much larger than steamships, with sailors almost never going aloft. But then it was discovered that sailing makes an excellent practice even for steamship sailors. And so the tall ships were born — a mobile classes of various marine schools, which are intentionally built in the old-fashioned way to teach the cadets what the sea really is. There are several unconventional and very high performance designs that use sail-by-wire or computer controlled sail trimming... the Walker Wingsail design is nearly 20 years old and the Vestas Sailrocket is a later design capable of 65 knots under sail power. There's still no substitute for something that can be repaired and driven by hand though, given that you don't want your motors to seize up or your electronics when you're several days or weeks sail away from land...

Break time's over! Back to the spice mines, worm!

Alternative Title(s): We Will Use Manual Labour In The Future