What Makes Us Fear Robots?

The idea of robot rebellions and machine uprisings has been around for a long time. Almost 80 years ago, Isaac Asimov created a set of rules to keep humans safe in case artificially intelligent robots go rogue. A century ago, Rossum’s Universal Robots introduced the word “robot” to the English language; the play was about a robot revolution that nearly wiped out humanity.

The nuances and intricacies of the rebel robot trope have been explored so thoroughly that the idea almost seems palpable. We know the stories so well  — R.U.R., The Terminator, The Matrix, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? — that it almost seems like an inevitability.

So why is the rebel robot trope so popular? What is it that makes us fear robots?

The symbiosis of science and science fiction

One of the things that makes science fiction so captivating is that it is rooted in science. However, this is also what makes it terrifying.

Science inspires science fiction. Fiction starts with reality, but pen and paper can take inventions and creations beyond our current level of technology. Science in turn draws from these fanciful ideas contained in fiction.

Science fact and the fiction that stems from it constantly push each other to reach new heights.

If science fiction describes a world of advanced robots and artificial intelligence, it’s conceivable that technology might one day catch up with the tales.

Creating our own catastrophe

The fear of a robot uprising is similar to other literary tropes: fear of a changing climate resulting in an uninhabitable earth, “superbugs” that develop antibiotic resistance, or a nuclear fallout leading to a dystopian post-apocalyptic wasteland.

The common thread in these catastrophes is that mankind has a hand in his downfall. What makes it worse is that we have opportunities to prevent the outcome, but for whatever reason we push things to the point where they are beyond our control.

Robots aren’t naturally occurring. Machines exist because mankind made them, and they exist to serve us. We create different devices to improve our lives in some way. We make robots to do the heavy lifting, perform the dull, tedious work, or go in environments that aren’t safe for humans.

The idea of creating something destructive that we can’t control may be as old as human thought. 200 years ago, Mary Shelley told us the story of Frankenstein. Golem myths date back hundreds of years before that.

Don’t fear your factory robots

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