Which work of literature, film, or TV (or radio) program was the first to feature a sentient robot from the future that traveled back in time?

  • 3
    Your wording makes me wonder if there are any "up from the past" Time Traveling Robots.
    – Xantec
    Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 15:37
  • 3
    I see what you did there.
    – user1027
    Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 15:37
  • 2
    DVK notes a short story written in 1952 named The Ego Machine. scifi.stackexchange.com/a/13517 Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 16:09
  • 4
    The modern idea of the robot was only developed in 1920 in a Czech play. Of course, these robots could travel through time, but only forward, at a set speed. Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 17:52
  • 1
    Would that speed be 1 second per second?
    – Monty129
    Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 19:57

3 Answers 3


Henry Kuttner's 1952 story "The Ego Machine" is not even Kuttner's first story about a time-traveling robot from the future. The much-reprinted classic "Happy Ending" by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore (generally published as by Henry Kuttner but attributed to Kuttner & Moore by ISFDB) first appeared in Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1948 (available at the Internet Archive) with this editorial blurb:

Out of the Future emerge the Robot and Karn—while James Kelvin fights them blindly, not knowing friend from foe!

That was beaten out by one month by Walt Sheldon's much less famous (never reprinted as far as ISFDB knows) "Perfect Servant", featuring a robot named Tobor (robot spelled backwards!), which appeared in Startling Stories, July 1948 (available at the Internet Archive) with this blurb:

Tobor, the ideal robot flunkey and yes-man, came out of the future—and did everything his master wanted, until . . .

Kuttner & Moore (alias Lewis Padgett) regain the lead with another famous classic, "The Twonky", in Astounding Science-Fiction, September 1942 (available at the Internet Archive). The twonky may look like a radio-phonograph (in the original story—they made it a TV in the movie), but it's definitely a robot from the future. [WRONG. The twonky did not time-travel. It was constructed in the present by a man from the future. Sorry about that.]

But those are very late entries. To determine the very first example of this theme would take too much research, but the earliest one I know of is The Exile of Time by Ray Cummings, which was published as a serial in Astounding Stories for April, May, June, and July of 1931 (the links are to the Project Gutenberg etexts). I quote the review in Everett F. Bleiler's Science-Fiction: The Gernsback Years:


  • Time: departure point 1931, and then back and forth throughout time.
    Place: mostly the New York area.
  • The action is complicated, repetitive and confusing enough that a plot summary would have little value. Important moments and essential themes: Tugh, a misshapen hunchback from 2930, is rampaging through time in a time cage that he claims to have invented. His vita is bad: In 1777 he harassed Mary Atwood and was forced to flee, and in 1935 he was involved in sex crimes. In both instances he escaped, vowing revenge.
  • Returning to 1777, Tugh abducts Mary, and, back in 1935, he causes his robot servitor Migul to transport from the future hundreds of robots who demolish Manhattan, causing tens of thousands of deaths.
  • Along the way to these deeds Tugh's servitor, the robot Migul, on Tugh's instructions, kidnaps George Rankin from 1935. Tugh intends to take George into the far future, where supersurgeons will transfer Tugh's brain to George's handsome body.
  • Another time cage is involved. It is operated by Harl, who claims to have co-invented Tugh's machine. Harl is accompanied by the Princess Tina.
  • The two parties chase each other back and forth in time.
  • A crossing of the paths takes place in 2930, where Tugh is fomenting a revolt of the robots, who are human enough to feel themselves ill-treated and exploited. If the robots win, Tugh will become master of the world, and the human survivors will become slaves to the robots.
  • When the revolt breaks out, Princess Tina and Harl are besieged in the station that broadcasts power to the robots; if Tugh does not seize the installation within two days, the robots will become inactive from loss of power. Tugh fails.
  • Tugh at one time took Mary and George to the beginning of the universe; now, in flight after the failed revolt in 2930 he takes the kidnapped Mary to the year one billion, where he is followed by the other time machine. There is a clash, and Tugh is killed. Surprise! Tugh was not a human, but a superrobot from the far future.
  • The robot Migul plays a large part in the story; Cummings attempts to humanize him as a sentient being who would like to be free and at times thinks he is free, but is really under Tugh's domination.
  • Miscellaneous: By 2930 New York City has become a garden city; before this it was a titanic megalopolis.
  • Space travel is possible through ether waves.
  • Time, Cummings says in a long passage, is a religious matter, the Scroll of God, which unfolds. We humans are not real identities, but successions of changed vibratory states. If the vibratory state is changed, one "moves in time". This is the purpose of the Creator.
  • There are paralysis, freezing, heat, and disintegrator rays.
  • The telespectroscope enables those in one time cage to see the other through time.
  • Routine work.

Why hasn't this been made into a movie??


Taken from DVK's question / answer. https://scifi.stackexchange.com/a/13517/1148

The short story published in 1952 called The Ego Machine by Henry Kuttner.

When a slightly mad robot drunk on AC, wants you to join an experiment in optimum ecology—don't do it! After all, who wants to argue like Disraeli or live like Ivan the Terrible?

This robot apparently travels backwards in time, and is confused by the process.


Well, unless Harlan Ellison stole the idea :-), the earliest work to feature a robot travelling back through time would be "Demon with a Glass Hand", an episode of The Outer Limits which first aired on American television in 1964.

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