34

We see hostile Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Sci-Fi all the time. Examples include

  • Terminator movie series
  • The Matrix movie series
  • Superman (Brainiac)
  • I, Robot (V.I.K.I.)
  • Ex Machina
  • Portal game series (GLaDOS, Wheatley)
  • Halo game series (343 Guilty Spark)

etc.

Which Sci-Fi work introduced the concept of a hostile AI?

11
  • 5
    "Moxon's Master" by Ambrose Bierce? – user14111 Sep 15 '17 at 12:43
  • 29
    I think you need to define what you mean by "artificial intelligence"; I think it could be argued that Frankenstein might be an earlier example (1818). – Jeff Zeitlin Sep 15 '17 at 13:06
  • 26
    Don't know enough about it to write it as an answer, but could the original golem story count? It dates to around the 14th century, as I recall. – Zeiss Ikon Sep 15 '17 at 13:41
  • 5
    @JeffZeitlin You and I were not reading the same story if you would describe the creature as "hostile" – Steve Cox Sep 15 '17 at 17:00
  • 5
    @SteveCox In the story I read, Frankenstein's creature murdered a number of people. I'd call that hostile. – aschepler Sep 15 '17 at 22:01
67

1899: "Moxon's Master", a short story by Ambrose Bierce; first published in the San Francisco Examiner, April 16, 1899; reprinted in the collection Can Such Things Be?, which is available at Project Gutenberg. LibriVox has readings ([1], [2]) and an etext of "Moxon's Master".

Wikipedia plot summary:

The master, Moxon, who creates a chess-playing automaton, boasts to the narrator that even though machines have no brains, they can achieve remarkable things and therefore should be treated just like men of flesh and blood. After a thorough discussion about what it is to be "thinking" and "intelligent", the narrator leaves. The narrator returns to Moxon's house later to learn more. He enters and finds Moxon playing chess with an automaton. Moxon wins the game, and the automaton kills him in an apparent fit of rage. The narrator later questions whether what he saw was real.

Here is Bierce's narrator's eyewitness account of Moxon's automaton being a very bad sport:

Presently Moxon, whose play it was, raised his hand high above the board, pounced upon one of his pieces like a sparrow-hawk and with the exclamation "checkmate!" rose quickly to his feet and stepped behind his chair. The automaton sat motionless.

The wind had now gone down, but I heard, at lessening intervals and progressively louder, the rumble and roll of thunder. In the pauses between I now became conscious of a low humming or buzzing which, like the thunder, grew momentarily louder and more distinct. It seemed to come from the body of the automaton, and was unmistakably a whirring of wheels. It gave me the impression of a disordered mechanism which had escaped the repressive and regulating action of some controlling part - an effect such as might be expected if a pawl should be jostled from the teeth of a ratchet-wheel. But before I had time for much conjecture as to its nature my attention was taken by the strange motions of the automaton itself. A slight but continuous convulsion appeared to have possession of it. In body and head it shook like a man with palsy or an ague chill, and the motion augmented every moment until the entire figure was in violent agitation. Suddenly it sprang to its feet and with a movement almost too quick for the eye to follow shot forward across table and chair, with both arms thrust forth to their full length - the posture and lunge of a diver. Moxon tried to throw himself backward out of reach, but he was too late: I saw the horrible thing’s hands close upon his throat, his own clutch its wrists. Then the table was overturned, the candle thrown to the floor and extinguished, and all was black dark. But the noise of the struggle was dreadfully distinct, and most terrible of all were the raucous, squawking sounds made by the strangled man’s efforts to breathe. Guided by the infernal hubbub, I sprang to the rescue of my friend, but had hardly taken a stride in the darkness when the whole room blazed with a blinding white light that burned into my brain and heart and memory a vivid picture of the combatants on the floor, Moxon underneath, his throat still in the clutch of those iron hands, his head forced backward, his eyes protruding, his mouth wide open and his tongue thrust out; and - horrible contrast! - upon the painted face of his assassin an expression of tranquil and profound thought, as in the solution of a problem in chess! This I observed, then all was blackness and silence.

31

1818: Frankenstein.

Despite Hollywood's changing of the story, in the novel, Victor Frankenstein creates the body from some ambiguous and previously undiscovered new life force. The brain and body are not recovered from cadavers, but created by Victor from "scratch". The Creature is fully sapient, and even learns to do things that it was not meant to do (read, speak, etc.), and comes to hate humankind for the revulsion they show it.

2
  • 2
    Yeah, I think thins is the first real example of a created creature revolting against its master. It's a shame early SciFi made it into the "mad scientist" trope – Machavity Sep 15 '17 at 18:02
  • 12
    The creature did include some human parts: "I collected bones from the charnel-houses" and "The dissecting-room and the slaughter-house furnished many of my materials" - Chapter III. – aschepler Sep 15 '17 at 21:56
28

Talus, the Greek's man of brass, is probably the most famous example of an AI. He's an automaton made of Brass although his lineage is unclear. In Appolodorus Atheniensis, it says that "Medea ran him insane by her arts or under the pretense of rendering him immortal." How he was killed is a bit fuzzy, some claim Jason and the Argonauts did him in, others Medea, and still others Poias. See Bruce, D. J. (1913). Human Automata in Classical Tradition and Mediaeval Romance. Modern Philogy 10(4) 511-526.

I know it's debatable that this is Sci-Fi :).

6
  • 1
    We have mythology as off-topic, so if it is mythological, then it does not apply. – Edlothiad Sep 15 '17 at 13:26
  • 12
    @Edlothiad - mthology as in gods is offtopic. Specific fiction work (e.g. the story of Argonauts) isn't, imho – DVK-on-Ahch-To Sep 15 '17 at 13:29
  • 3
    Was Talus hostile? – Harley Quinn Sep 15 '17 at 13:37
  • 3
    @ChristieRomanowski only in the sense that Medea made him that way. This is one of those tales that has multiple interpretations. In one, he's created to guard Crete and is only killed because he's doing his duty (Jason & co.) in the other Medea makes him insane and is killed because he's insane (Appolodorus), similar to Shelley's modern Prometheus - Frankenstein. – decuser Sep 15 '17 at 13:45
  • 2
    There is also the golem, which is a jewish? Invention, not sure on the details, kinda turns hostile but much later and frisky not sci fi – Garret Gang Sep 15 '17 at 15:22
19

Not as early as the great answer by @user14111, but still fairly early is Karel Capek's story R.U.R written in 1920.

This is also notable for the creation of the word Robot by Capek.

A quick synopsis from Encylopedia Britannica

R.U.R., in full R.U.R.: Rossum’s Universal Robots, drama in three acts by Karel Čapek, published in 1920 and performed in 1921. This cautionary play, for which Čapek invented the word robot (derived from the Czech word for forced labour), involves a scientist named Rossum who discovers the secret of creating humanlike machines. He establishes a factory to produce and distribute these mechanisms worldwide. Another scientist decides to make the robots more human, which he does by gradually adding such traits as the capacity to feel pain. Years later, the robots, who were created to serve humans, have come to dominate them completely.

A translated copy can be found here

This I think shows the first takeover of mankind by aritifical intelligence but not the first hostile move by an AI.

6
  • 5
    You shouldn't add answers which aren't earlier. As this is not a list question but isn't specifically asking for the EARLIEST occurrence. – Edlothiad Sep 15 '17 at 13:24
  • 12
    I think that there is some potential debate about what the OP means, the first answer is a great example of a one off hostile act, but the examples from the question are more about attacking mankind (as a whole), at least that was what I read the question as. Hence my answer. – Alith Sep 15 '17 at 13:32
  • 3
    I like this answer as being more like 'hostile AI'. The examples given by the OP involve the 'try to take over the world' or 'subjugate humanity' theme. The quotes in @user14111's answer seem more like 'evil machine.' – kingledion Sep 15 '17 at 15:03
  • I've never read RUR, but I was under the impression that Capek's robots were biological in nature, and therefore presumably not considered AIs in the traditional sense. – Jules Sep 15 '17 at 15:11
  • 4
    @Jules While true, it is essentially the work that gave us the English word "robot", so I'd say it should get an honorary pass. – JAB Sep 15 '17 at 16:09
7

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: 1818

A young Victor Frankenstein (no, not that one) creates an unnamed creature (hereafter referred to as The Creature, as it is given no name). The Creature escapes and learns to think and speak, but finds his life dissatisfying, as people are horrified by his visage of stitched cadavers. From the book

“Hateful day when I received life!' I exclaimed in agony. 'Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemlance. Satan had his companions, fellow-devils, to admire and encourage him; but I am solitary and abhorred.' - Frankenstein”

The Creature murders Victor's brother and then finds Victor to make a female companion for him. Victor attempts to do so, only to find himself horrified at what terrors they may wreak upon mankind. He destroys the female without bestowing life upon her. The Creature retaliates by murdering Victor's fiance. Victor then chases The Creature to the Arctic Circle, where Victor falls ill and dies. The Creature, finding no satisfaction in his revenge, drifts off into the night.

While not a computer, we see most of the necessary elements of modern rogue-AI stories

  • Frankenstein created The Creature
  • The Creature developed in ways not forseen by his creator (SkyNet anyone?)
  • The Creature seeks vengeance upon his creator as a result of these unforseen developments (namely The Creature suffering from loneliness as a result of having been made hideous)
2
  • 3
    I would add that it endeavors to aid humans and to avoid detection which are other common themes of ai stories. – not store bought dirt Sep 15 '17 at 18:38
  • 4
    This is an expansion to an existing answer and not an answer in its own right. – jwodder Sep 15 '17 at 19:11
1

Hostile machine intelligences are discussed in Erewhon, a 1872 satirical novel by Samuel Butler. This is kind of an unusual example, since the artificial intelligence is fictional in-universe. Most of the novel is a satire in the vein of Gulliver's Travels. However, three chapters near the end are framed as the narrator's (incomplete) translation of an in-universe polemical document, which calls for the destruction of all advanced machines, because the machines are evolving so quickly that they may soon be more intelligent than humans—something that the author considers a very threatening prospect.

The writer, after enlarging on the above for several pages, proceeded to inquire whether traces of the approach of such a new phase of life could be perceived at present; whether we could see any tenements preparing which might in a remote futurity be adapted for it; whether, in fact, the primordial cell of such a kind of life could be now detected upon earth. In the course of his work he answered this question in the affirmative and pointed to the higher machines.

“There is no security”—to quote his own words—“against the ultimate development of mechanical consciousness, in the fact of machines possessing little consciousness now. A mollusc has not much consciousness. Reflect upon the extraordinary advance which machines have made during the last few hundred years, and note how slowly the animal and vegetable kingdoms are advancing. The more highly organised machines are creatures not so much of yesterday, as of the last five minutes, so to speak, in comparison with past time. Assume for the sake of argument that conscious beings have existed for some twenty million years: see what strides machines have made in the last thousand! May not the world last twenty million years longer? If so, what will they not in the end become? Is it not safer to nip the mischief in the bud and to forbid them further progress?

The full discussion is actually quite sophisticated, and addresses a number of practical and philosophical objections to the idea of machines being alive or intelligent. Butler had begin considering these issues a number of years earlier, and the discussion in Erewhon was an elaboration on some earlier ideas he had laid out in the 1863 essay "Darwin Among the Machines." Butler's body of work on this topic is considered by many to represent the first serious attempt to consider the possibility of artificial intelligence, including the ways in which it would be similar to naturally-evolved intelligence and also the key ways in which it would be difference.

The actual hostility of super-intelligent machines is something that Butler seems to take mostly for granted. He compares how humans treat the less clever and conscious organisms of our planet, and, by analogy, concludes that if machines surpass us, they will most likely press us into subservience as human livestock. He does not think that this will necessarily be the result of a violent robot uprising; rather, Butler thinks it more likely that humans will gradually become more and more dependent on the technology that was originally humanity's own creation, until people are virtual slaves, and the machines have supplanted them as the primary decision makers.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.