What is the first depiction of man made machines turning against human? I know of Terminator and Matrix but I suppose the theme is much older than those two?

EDIT: I'm thinking more about machines that became sentient and as a result started harming humans.

EDIT2: By a machine I mean something that is grounded in technology, so no magic and handwaveium or unobtanium. The overall theme I look for is fear of technology advancement that as a result will crush us (Skynet, Matrix, HAL-9000).

  • Rogue Jedi has a good answer, but in case he needs backup then The Sorceror's Apprentice and Frankenstein are good early representatives of the genre. Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 15:52
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    What does "turning against" mean? Do you want a machine that became sentient and intentionally acted in a way that harmed humans? Or would you accept a non-sentient machine whose use harmed humans? (E.g. "Og made a mammoth-hunting device, but it blew up and Grod was killed.") Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 1:05
  • @NateEldredge I'd like the machine to become sentient and decide to harm humans. I will edit this question to show that cars (man made machine) harming humans as a result of malfucntion or improper use doesn't interest me. Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 7:24
  • It's not the earliest or anything, but if you'd asked for a list of stories about machines that turned on their makers (if such questions were allowed here), I'd mention "Moxon's Master" by Ambrose Bierce.
    – user14111
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 8:23
  • for answers to your question you also have to consider technological based computers (HAL being famous), machines (just look at some of the Luddite stories), mystical (possession of cars (Stephen King) or objects (cursed weapons, tools or locations). Or whether you consider magical man-made objects to be included, because some of humanities' oldest legends talk of golems or homunculi turning all "evil doll" on people and of magical objects rings/lamps/clothes blessed/enchanted by humans that turn against their owner, their owners murderer, or humans in general.
    – mist42nz
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 9:30

2 Answers 2


From the Liezi text, of the 4th century AD:

The king stared at the figure in astonishment. It walked with rapid strides, moving its head up and down, so that anyone would have taken it for a live human being. The artificer touched its chin, and it began singing, perfectly in tune. He touched its hand, and it began posturing, keeping perfect time...As the performance was drawing to an end, the robot winked its eye and made advances to the ladies in attendance, whereupon the king became incensed and would have had Yen Shih [Yan Shi] executed on the spot had not the latter, in mortal fear, instantly taken the robot to pieces to let him see what it really was. And, indeed, it turned out to be only a construction of leather, wood, glue and lacquer, variously coloured white, black, red and blue. Examining it closely, the king found all the internal organs complete—liver, gall, heart, lungs, spleen, kidneys, stomach and intestines; and over these again, muscles, bones and limbs with their joints, skin, teeth and hair, all of them artificial...The king tried the effect of taking away the heart, and found that the mouth could no longer speak; he took away the liver and the eyes could no longer see; he took away the kidneys and the legs lost their power of locomotion. The king was delighted.

The automaton wasn't attacking people, but the king clearly felt threatened by him.

There were also some much earlier examples in Greek Mythology, such as Talos but these were made by gods, not men.


I'm aware of a number of stories that follow the theme of an artificial creation that causes havoc.

Colossus: The Forbin Project (Film, 1970) A supercomputer (Colossus) is given total control over the United States nuclear arsenal to insure a quick and efficient retaliation in case of a Russian first strike. Unfortunately, the Russians also have a supercomputer (Guardian) and the two link up and start communicating. Eventually the combined intelligences rule the world.

Metropolis (Film, 1927) A robot is created to impersonate a rabble-rousing girl and undermine the revolutionaries.

R.U.R. (Film, 1921) Artificial workers (first use of the term 'robots') rebel against their masters.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelly (Novel, 1818) An artificial humanoid turns against his creator

The Golem of Chelm (Book by Rabbi Jacob Emden, 1776) Describes how a Kabbalist creates a golem in the 15th century to do hard work and protect him. The master grows concerned by the continued growth of the golem. Fearing it may eventually destroy all of Creation, he removes the holy words that animate it, but it strikes out just before turning to dust and injures him, scarring his face.

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    You mention two movies, without giving credit to the science fiction writers on whose works they were based. Namely, Colossus is based on a novel by D. F. Jones, and R.U.R. is based on a play by Karel Čapek.
    – user14111
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 8:11

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