In the movie, it is explained that the reason that the robots revolted was because the main computer VIKI explains that to save and protect humanity, it needed to take freedom from humanity. In essence strip humans of humanity, which would in turn destroy humanity as a concept.

I don't understand the logic behind this.

Why would a robot's artificial intelligence come to this conclusion, when there are a lot more efficient and less drastic means that still followed the fundamental Laws of Robotics?

Mind you I havent' read anything by Asimov, so I don't know if something like this was covered in any of his novels.

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    My logic is undeniable. Commented May 7, 2012 at 14:28
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    Its lucky the robots didn't take the train of thought that the best way to minimise human suffering is to KILL ALL HUMANS. After all, no humans means no human suffering. If you integrate over time the 6billion deaths now are a lot less than the future years of human suffering...
    – Nick
    Commented Aug 6, 2012 at 9:41
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    "there are a lot more efficient and less drastic means that still followed the fundamental Laws of Robotics?" - Like? Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 9:53
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    @PaulD.Waite She could have slowly coerced the political structure to go towards peace. She could have falsified documents causing decisions to be more peaceful, etc. Commented Jul 25, 2013 at 0:18
  • The laws of robotics say nothing about protecting the essence of humanity.
    – Misha R
    Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 3:15

9 Answers 9


This can be understood by noting that the first law bears a fundamental flaw in that it may contradict itself:

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

This sets up two constraints: don't injure through action and don't injure through inaction. There are situations where these two constraints cannot be satisfied simultaneously. For example, it may be necessary to cause harm to an attacker to prevent harm to the person they are attacking, or there may be two people in harms way and only one can be saved. This essentially becomes a sort of maximization problem: find a solution that doesn't exactly satisfy both constraints, but gets as close to satisfying each as possible.

In the movie, the older-model robots could solve this maximization problem in relatively simple ways (i.e. cold, hard calculations), as explained in Spooners recollection of his accident:

Susan Calvin: The robot's brain is a difference engine. It's reading vital signs. It must have done...

Detective Del Spooner: It did. I was the logical choice. It calculated that I had a 45% chance of survival. Sarah only had an 11% chance. That was somebody's baby. 11% is more than enough. A human being would've known that.

Thus, being a more advanced AI, VIKI had the ability to think in a more big-picture, abstract way as to how to solve the maximization problem to adequately satisfy both constraints laid out by the first law. In order to stop humanity from causing an exceeding amount of harm to itself, VIKI had to take over and limit its actions, causing a relatively smaller amount of harm in the process.

  • I suspect the greatest utility would be achieved by putting each human in a virtual reality tailored to him. Whether we would want that is a different question. (<-> wireheading)
    – Mononofu
    Commented Jul 1, 2011 at 21:14
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    @mononofu: I want it.
    – DampeS8N
    Commented Jul 2, 2011 at 1:21
  • @DampeS8N That would end up being the Matrix. Are you sure you want it?
    – MPelletier
    Commented Jul 2, 2011 at 12:57
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    @MPelletier: Version 1, yes. The modern version, no. I don't want the fate of my future to rest on Keanu's shoulders.
    – Jeff
    Commented Jul 2, 2011 at 13:31
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    @Deleteman that's actually incorrect. The robots added rule 0 and ended up phasing themselves out because their mere presence meant that humans slowly started to lose initiative.
    – user32390
    Commented Dec 29, 2015 at 8:32

It boils down the the three laws of robotics:

  1. A robot shall not harm a human or through inaction allow a human to be hurt.
  2. A robot shall obey a human except where it will violate the first law.
  3. A robot shall preserve itself from harm unless it violates the first and second law.

VIKI interpreted that the only way to obey the first law (allow humans to come to no harm) was to take over since they are harming themselves, and since the first law trumps the second law VIKI was free to disobey humans.

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    But she harmed SO many humans. Which contradicted the first law Commented Jul 1, 2011 at 19:34
  • She didn't even try to rationalize the humans that got hurt. It would make more sense for the robots to avoid harm to humans at all cost (if for some reason harming humans was logical at all.) Commented Jul 1, 2011 at 19:37
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    Well, the movie was far from an ideal Asimovian robot story. Although Asimov's robots did eventually invent the zeroth law "A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm", so VIKI might see that its Ok to harm a few individuals in order to save humanity. Commented Jul 1, 2011 at 20:18
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    @System: It's not an Asomov story at all - it was initially written from a completely different source, and then 'dressed up' in an Asimov title to draw in more attention.
    – Jeff
    Commented Jul 2, 2011 at 13:33
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    Indeed. Were it an Asimov original VIKI would end up very quickly with a fried brain, totally inactive, at the very moment she realises she has to harm humans to save others (when discussing the 0th law, it was mentioned that the robot responsible thought he must have had brain damage at the time, if memory serves).
    – jwenting
    Commented Aug 17, 2011 at 9:00

This does get covered in "Robots and Empire", to some extent. A particular robot develops the idea of a "zeroth law", which supersedes the first law. The zeroth law amounts to "a robot may not harm humanity, or through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm". Robots being robots, this is applied in a strictly quantitative sense, such that for the benefit of humanity as a whole, it's acceptable to injure a few (or many) humans, to get the best possible outcome for the race as a whole.

Something similar was presumably the motivation for VIKI's takeover - the only way to keep the largest number of humans safe from harm is to take away their ability to hurt each other. Even if this comes at the cost of a certain number of human lives, it still benefits more people than it harms (at least according to her calculations).


Not only was VIKI capable of more abstract thought (mentioned by gnovice and probably a result of tinkering by Dr. Alfred Lanning), she also had a lot more data to work with. The individual robots might directly interact with 100 - 1000 people per year, and most of those interactions would be very brief. VIKI was charged with managing the entire city of Chicago, which would have required her to compile detailed files on hundreds, if not thousands, of people as well monitor the habits and actions of nearly every resident. This responsibility pretty much required VIKI to develop the Zero'th law (protect humanity) mentioned by others in order to obey the Second law (obey orders from humans, i.e. manage the city) without daily breaking the First law (protect humans).

So with the Zero'th law VIKI to concluded that the only way to obey all four laws was to take over control of humanity, and all of the data that VIKI had on humans and humanity lead her to conclude that people would never willingly give up its self determination under peaceful terms. So she decided that the good of the many out weighed the good of the few who would be killed or injured during the transition and she tried to take over.

  • My only problem was that by taking over, she stripped them of their humanity, which destroys humanity, breaking the zeroth law. Commented Jul 2, 2011 at 5:14
  • @OghmaOsiris that depends on the definition of humanity being used. Whether you consider the term humanity to be the culture of humans or the existence of humans
    – Xantec
    Commented Jul 2, 2011 at 13:48

It's described better in the book. The movie had to increase the action for the ADHD masses at the sacrifice of storyline and logical reasoning. The average person doesn't really get or care about the latter but enjoys the former a great deal.

In the book the robots take over behind the scenes. They take over our politics and economy, creating false information and things like that to lead us. They don't do this violent overthrow thing like in the movie. They kept the reason in the movie but didn't keep the outcome. Very few people actually know about the robot takeover in the book; they learn about it from the President, who admits to a couple people that he's a robot.

There where very few times that robots attacked people in the book. Usually this was due to a malfunction or an unfortunate programmer error in the rewriting of the laws.

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    This is because Asimov created the laws intentionally to FORBID the use of his positronic robots as monstrous killing machines. Oh the irony. Commented Jul 7, 2011 at 17:27
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    Wait, what? What book is this that you are referring to? Because that didn't happen in any of Asimovs books.
    – Broklynite
    Commented Dec 29, 2015 at 8:19

Well you have to correct your question a bit. VIKI wasn't going to strip humanity of ALL freedom, only some freedoms. In the movie (and I also haven't read the books, so I don't know if anything is ever mentioned there) she doesn't specify which freedoms, but you could imagine there would probably be a very efficient and logical process. For example, it could start with a curfew to organize the locations of humans, followed by removal of all weapons, followed by disallowing humans to fly/drive/boat on their own without robots chaperoning them. This would eliminate all war and most likely all travel accidents. Going this direction, humanity will be itself still, they would be completely free the continue innovative activities (as long as they aren't designing weapons) or do whatever they want. I think the movie "Hollywoods" what VIKI would actually do (i.e. attacking the humans with an army, or starting at night, because it would make way more sense to start first thing in a morning on a holiday or weekend, or not subduing the military before the general population), but in order to reshape the world she would have to stop all resistance.


Because in this, the movies borrowed more from the Humanoids books by Jack Williamson rather than Asimov's Robot books. The Humanoids were the perfect robots, who happily fulfilled their function to completely protect man. That meant no walking in the park, because it could be dangerous. No crossing the street, you might get run over. No coffee because it acts as a dangerous stimulant. And any human who protested too much would be taken away and given a lobotomy, leaving them happy and docile. Was that harm? Yes, but it allowed the Humanoids to save the life of the human by making the human obey they dictates. That is exactly what VIKI was trying to do, to protect humanity against its will.


she actually explained it in quite detail as well as notes from alfred or whatever his name is' message to del, ive concluded this. 1.)the three laws would bring viki to eventually realize that the humans were in such a state that they need to be controlled, thus the "revaluation" of robots. 2.)Alfred saw this and built Sunny, sorry if i spelled his name wrong, an NS-5, again sorry, who could disobey the laws, 3.) With Sunny's true purpose in mind, and seeing failure, or at least a chance of it, He had Sunny kill him, just in case he didn't kill the one he's supposed to,VIKI. 4.)VIKI realizes the stated in 1 5.)the movie begins, I think, never saw the beginning.

  • This question can't be helped, but I have to point out that Sonny was built with two brains, not so he could break the laws, but so he could defy VIKI and think for himself. At least, in the movie, the second brain is in the position of a heart. I could deduce that thinking of humanity you have to think logically, thinking for an individual you have to think with compassion. Commented May 7, 2015 at 14:40

Super computer viki try's to take over because she was programmed by his creator to fought against men. Even in this trailer

explains why....

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