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Home > Articles > Robots and Slavery - what do humans want when we are “Masters”?

Robots and Slavery - what do humans want when we are “Masters”?

Posted: Tue, January 29, 2013 | By: Hank Pellissier

Robot obeys. Robot does what human Master wants.  Robot is Slave.

Androids today are quite “primitive” - they don’t look convincingly “human” - not yet. But soon, they’ll be indistinguishable from us…. except… they’ll be 100% compliant… devoted to our wishes…

Slavery Will Return. 

Sure, they’re “just robots” - but with millions of them bustling around obeying our barking orders…

Society will look Antebellum. Mission Indian. Ottoman. Roman.

The Master/Slave polarity will return.

This essay won’t focus on the “ethics” of robot slavery. What I’m interested in is… what do humans want to to with our upcoming ‘droid servants…? If we have millions of cyborg slaves that do whatever we command them to do…?

There’s an easy way to answer this question. 

Slaves will do in the future what slaves do today, and what slaves have always done in the past.

What slaves have always done for their Masters is…

Work. Kill. Sex.

Since the dawn of humanity, slaves have been coerced into -

1. performing dreary laborious tasks

2. slaughtering enemies of the tribe

3. delivering sexual gratification

This trio of slave-duties has spanned across time and cultures consistently. Why? Because… given the opportunity… humans are happy to have these “dirty deeds” done for them.

Slavery exists today in each of these categories. In actuality, there are presently more slaves in the world, up to 27 million, than there’s even been before, throughout history. The essay, Slavery in the 21st Century, lists the following regions as having slaves (but suggests that the problem lies in every nation of the world): India, Pakistan, Nepal, Brazil, East Europe, West Africa, Central Africa, the Gulf States, Burma, China, Sudan, Central Asian Republics.

What are these slaves forced to do? Let’s return to an examination of the three categories and speculate on how robots will replace them.

WORK. Forcing humans into hard labor in horrid conditions with no pay remains the policy in numerous nation-states today. In Vietnam, for example, suspected drug addicts are routinely rounded up and forced into toxic tasks like cashew processing. (This atrocity was reported in a previous essay “Boycott the Bloody Cashews of Vietnam, Where Drug Addicts Are Tortured for Your Nuts.”)  Work that today’s slaves are forced to do includes farming, mining, quarrying, fishing, construction, domestic labor, and numerous other menial tasks.

As robots arrive - as-we-speak - they’ll do all the tedious demeaning dangerous chores that make actual humans with imaginations go crazy and jump off buildings. Robot slaves will toil in sweatshops, factories, laboratories, mines and farms 24/7; they’ll clean toilets, assemble toys, and gut chickens without complaint.

KILL. Slaves have always murdered for their masters, for territorial conquest, palace defense, and for sport. Numerous successful dynasties have relied on slave soldier armies, among them are the Malmuks, Ottomans, Mughals, Seljuks, Fatimids, Umayyad, Abbasids. Additionally, 2,000 years ago, the captive gladiators of the Romans hacked each other to bits in the Coliseum, for the amusement of their overlords. In recent years there’s been the coerced “boy soldier” phenomenon - almost half a million children have been kidnapped, brainwashed, dehumanized, coerced, armed with AK-47s and set maniacally loose to maraud in nations such as Uganda, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Congo, Burundi, Colombia, and Myanmar. 

Soldiers of the future will be increasingly robotic. Already… drone aircraft, semi-autonomous patrol boats and tanks, heavily-armed border guard ‘bots, and other machine slaves are performing crucial tasks on the field of battle. The future will increasingly bring us cyborg soldiers obedient to our commands to annihilate.

SEX. Rajahs, Emperors, Kings, Sultans, Sheiks… owned huge numbers of concubines, i.e., sex slaves. Genghiz Khan had 500, Solomon 300, and Shi Hu of China’s Later Zhao Dynasty had a reported 30,000 young women in his imperial palace. Wealthy Romans - a “pederastic culture” like the classical Greeks - also had their concubinus (young male sex slaves).  More recently, African slave women were forced into liaisons with USA Founding Fathers, like Thomas Jefferson. Today sex trafficking around the world continues in “epidemic proportions” - A United Nations report claims major sources are Thailand, China, Nigeria, Albania, Bulgaria, Belarus, Moldava, and Ukraine - Nepalese girls are also often trafficked into India.

Sexbots will replace them as soon as “johns” decide to spend their money on increasingly-realistic synthetic sex objects.

Will the robot slaves of the future precisely resemble us? No, offten, they won’t. 

Worker ‘bots will be designed to efficiently perform their specific tasks. I imagine many industrial robots will be outfitted with more than two hands, like octopi, plus they’ll swivel freely at the waist, to rapidly reach all the components they need to assemble. The only ones with humanoid forms will be those they need to express empathetic capacities such as nurses, teachers, and psychologists.

Ditto the killer ‘bots. There’s no need for robotic troops to look remotely human - what’s important is that they’re swift, homicidal, and invulnerable. I forsee steel-clad, low-lying, spiderish war-‘bots with multiple eyes and gun turrets - that crawl quickly up and over any terrain.

SexBots, of course, will be extremely beautiful. Perfect humanoids, to arouse our reproductive instincts. 

Will we be uncomfortable, psychologically, ordering human-appearing figures around, forcing them to work and pleasure us unceasingly, without giving them anything in return, not even a name or a thank you? 

I think… yes. Most of us will. We’ll be sensitive to what we imagine to be our robot’s concerns, even though they have none. This means… we’ll keep them clean and properly maintained… we’ll treat them at least as well as our automobiles. 

This is practical because we’ll want them gleaming gorgeously and functioning smoothly as they perform their functions for us - laboring, battling, copulating.

Will there be “Sicko Masters” who enjoy sadistically abusing cyborgs, like slaveowners who were quick with their whips? 

Will there be reenactments of “Plantation Lifestyle” with masters ordering dozens of cyborg slaves about?

Will “machine mercenary” armies be mobilized, to murder for profit or televised entertainment?

Will the concubinage totals of ancient Kings be duplicated, in robotic form?

The possibilities are endless, and often unpleasant to contemplate.

(This has been commented on for half a century - Check out: You’ll Own Slaves by 1965 articles on Sex Robots

Future Love: Romancing the Robot 

Sexbots Will Give Us Longevity Orgasms  

Musings on Robots Sex Dolls and Companions  

Sexbots Will Satisfy Our “Sick” Fantasies 

Sexbots for Women  

By 2030 Household Robots Could Become Love Interests 

Okay, Let’s Talk About Making Sex With Robots 


Important to note, is that there is a difference between “robot” and AI. The difference being, that robots aren’t conscious, while AIs are. A robot does not experience, it’s just a machine, but an AI is alive in the mental sense rather than biological.

Abusing a robot is like abusing a blender, but abusing an AI is like animal abuse or abusing a person.

To prevent AI abuse, there must be some easily observable distinguishing trait or lack of a trait that differentiates them from robots, besides consciousness.  Perhaps, AIs have total free will, while robots do not? Potentially dangerous as of now, but what I personally would prefer them to have.
Robots must execute a series of maneuvers given a simple command such as ‘robot?’

By ZombiezuRFER on Jan 25, 2013 at 6:39pm

What happens when robots demand a fair wage for their labor? I think a sentient being is a sentient being whether organic or synthetic.  We should consider robot rights.

By Michael Miller on Jan 26, 2013 at 12:39pm

No we should not consider robot rights. The goal of AI is to make robots that could do anything that a human could do. It is not to make artificial humans with all of our weaknesses and emotions. Why would you want to program a robot that way?

By Matt Mahoney on Jan 26, 2013 at 5:44pm

Whent this level of slavery is aviable to the mass populace will it spell the doom of human civilization, by distroying the incentives to work?  Will human progress stop as our material comforts are being met?

By Jimmy Chacko on Jan 28, 2013 at 9:26am

In my admittedly non-scientific observation:

People actually responsible for scientific, artistic and technological progress (as opposed to merely maintaining status quo) are motivated by something other than material comforts.

By Ilya on Jan 28, 2013 at 11:03am

If we build machines that are smart enough to do work, kill, and sex correctly, they will inevitably pass the Turing test. At that point, we will be right back where we started when Booker T. Washington wrote: “You can’t hold a man down without staying down with him.”

This entire discussion reminds me of Charles Stross’ novel “Saturn’s Children,” where humanity is extinct and all these robots are now running the show pretty much as viciously and incompetently as we their forebears did. When I asked him about our extinction as “Did we fall or were we pushed?” his answer was “Yes.”

By Geoffrey Kidd on Jan 28, 2013 at 4:18pm

The author wrote “Androids (will) be 100% compliant… devoted to our wishes…” Total compliance is not compatible with our wish for personal health and survival; once in a while, we make mistakes in our orders. 100% compliance in a slave requires a human master to be on his toes every minute, with no room for merely human error on his part. Seeing eye dogs learn the concept of intelligent disobedience.
Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, 1942, are these:
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

The specific example I give is that if some temporary disability—maybe being under the influence of alcohol or medicine—afflicts the master, it is the slave’s duty to protect the master then, for example, by not letting him have the car keys, disobeying an order if necessary. I would expect any robot I buy to have training at least as good as a seeing eye dog has, and to have at least the technological advancement the Asimov contemplated and wrote about seventy years ago. Seventy years? Before you were born?

By Ted Shepherd on Jan 28, 2013 at 8:57pm

@Ted Shepherd - Asimov’s Laws do not apply. Especially in this age of militarized autonomous drones and war-bots.  We now have robots that are designed to kill people.  Such robots were used in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

By Michael Miller on Jan 28, 2013 at 11:21pm

The key is, ultimately, whether a given AI can be said to be a person. I’d argue that any AI that expresses preferences must ultimately fall under that caveat, and as such be granted rights equal to other persons.

By Harry Dishman on Jan 29, 2013 at 7:13am

@Michael Miller You wrote “Asimov’s Laws do not apply” and I agree with the qualification that the laws do not apply to robots whose designers intend them to be killing machines. We give the government exclusive right to use deadly force except in self-defense. My point was that, for robots in the consumer or private market, something like Asimov’s laws will apply in response to market forces. We won’t buy killer robots any more than we would buy killer refrigerators or washing machines, except perhaps as body guards. The ads from General Robotics will tout the sophistication and safety of the bots for sale for use in the home. Consumer organizations will rate robots for safety as they now rate automobiles. Personal robots may very well have the same power a homeowner has to protect against intruders, using deadly force if necessary, though that will take some sophisticated programming.  Those are my predictions, anyway.

By Ted Shepherd on Jan 29, 2013 at 7:13am

“We seem to be made to suffer. It’s our lot in life.” - C3P0, Star Wars; A New Hope.

By Armand on Jan 30, 2013 at 8:02pm

The article ignores the fact that during the mid 90’s the US government passed laws determining the rights of robotic life and how to define it.  Abusing the robot you don’t yet have is already a crime. 

As for some of the comments, actually it is a crime to abuse your blender in many places since it is a crime to modify any hardware or software from it’s original purpose without the expressed permission of the manufacturer.  It’s a law that is rarely enforced but does exist in most countries.

By Hippo on Feb 01, 2013 at 9:52pm

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