Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

10 Evil Robots Bent on Destroying Humanity

        Science | Robotics

10
Rossum's Universal Robots
A scene from a 1938 TV production of "R.U.R.", or "Rossum's Universal Robots," the play which introduced the term "robot" into many of the world's languages. BBC/Corbis
A scene from a 1938 TV production of "R.U.R.", or "Rossum's Universal Robots," the play which introduced the term "robot" into many of the world's languages. BBC/Corbis

In 1920, Czech playwright Karel Capek basically invented the "kill all humans!" meme. In his play, "Rossum's Universal Robots (R.U.R.)," he envisioned that humans would create not just dumb mechanical men, but a sophisticated artificial life form fashioned from synthetic bones and flesh, through a process vaguely resembling today's cloning and genetic engineering technology.

The robots -- from robata, the Czech word for forced labor or servitude -- originally are used as factory workers who tirelessly perform grueling work and don't have to be paid. But pretty soon, nations are amassing armies of robots, whose unquestioning obedience and lack of sentiment or morals makes them highly-efficient, ruthless super-soldiers willing to slaughter anyone who gets in their way. Teaching robots to kill, of course, turns out not to be the most brilliant idea ever conceived by humankind, but what really starts things headed downhill is when a misguided do-gooder social activist named Helena Glory decided that the robots are being cruelly oppressed, and convinces a scientist to modify them so that they have the emotional intelligence to perceive their plight.

Pretty soon, a robotic version of Ernesto "Che" Guevara is exhorting the robot masses to overthrow their meat-body overlords. In the ensuing revolution, almost the entire human race is wiped out, save for a lone soul named Alquist, who is spared because he actually still performs labor. But the robots' victory proves to be a pyrrhic one, because humans manage to destroy the manufacturing process for robots before they are wiped out, and the robots can't figure out how to replicate it. The robots themselves begin to die out, until two of them develop the ability to love one another, and Alquist modifies the female robot so that she can reproduce the old-fashioned way [source: Angelo].