Rundown: The Top 5 Robot Civilizations

Everybody loves robots.  (If you disagree with this statement, Gentlemen, Behold!! probably isn’t the blog for you.)  From Johnny 5 to the Terminator, robots provide a wealth of storyline possibilities and character ideas for all kinds of fiction, including books, movies, video games and a couple really weird episodes of Family Matters.  Seriously, the only thing more off-the-rails than a Steve Urkel robot was a Steve Urkel robot who joined the Chicago Police Department.

Anyway, partially in honor of Transformers: Dark of the Moon and partially because I’m just a huge nerd, I’ve pulled together the top five robot civilizations, as in groups of robots who hang out together and do robot stuff.  The qualifier for a civilization versus just a bunch of robots is that the robots have their own goals and interactions independent of the humans (or other things) which created them.  Without further ado, here’s the top five robot civilizations!

5.  The Geth

From:  Mass Effect

Best known for:  Being really hard to kill early in the game, threatening the galaxy

The flashlight-headed Geth are the primary enemies in the first Mass Effect game.  A race of networked A.I., they rebelled from their creators and disappeared for hundreds of years, only to return in force in an attempt to conquer the center of the galactic government.  The Geth have an interesting visual design which harkens back to their creators, the Quarians, and their faceless nature makes for an intimidating army of soldiers.  Their goals (to create a superstructure to house all Geth programs, so that “No Geth ever has to be alone again”) are also relatable and somewhat noble, even if their methods are sometimes… genocidal.  While they aren’t the main antagonists in Mass Effect 2, their presence is certainly still felt [Editor’s Note: how long is the statute of limitations for video game spoilers?].  Whether they’re shooting bullets at you or shooting rockets at you, the Geth are a force to be reckoned with.

5.  The Cylons

From: Battlestar Galactica (original and remake)

Best Known for: Impersonating humans, destroying most of civilization and trying to finish the job

The 2004 remake of Battlestar Galactica overhauled their robotic bad guys, the Cylons, to great effect.  Like the Geth, they rebelled against their creators and waged a war, but significantly, their gripe is explicitly religious: the monotheistic Cylons view the polytheistic human society of Galactica as sinful and seek to destroy the heresy.  There’s a lot of potential for heavy-handed Al-Qaeda metaphors, but to its credit, the show handles these issues with a thought-provoking level of subtlety.  The Cylons also possess the capacity for shades of gray and moral uncertainty, especially in the humanoid models, Cylons created to be indistinguishable from (and sometimes believe themselves to be) humans.  The Cylons are a varied group which covers both the Terminator and A.I. Artificial Intelligence ends of the spectrum.  Plus, mad props to any civilization which creates a series of identical infiltrators and make them look like this:

3. Tachikoma

From: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Best Known For: Being incessantly cute and perky, provoking deep thoughts on the nature of identity and intelligence

The Tachikoma from Ghost in the Shell are a little bit different, in that they don’t have a society- yet.  They’re multipurpose military robots with spider legs, guns, and sunny, childlike dispositions.  However, their evolution towards individual identities, and the responses of the (mostly) human characters who created them, make up an important subplot of the series, and not mentioning them here would be a mistake.  Tachikoma have their memories synchronized regularly, but they still manage to develop individual personalities and muse on their “lives,” such as they are.  It’s a unique look at the stuff a lot of stories just gloss over, namely the events before “the machines took over.”

2.  Transformers

From: All manner of Transformers media, but originally a toyline in the 1980s

Best Known For:  Transforming, rolling out

There’s really not a lot to be said about Transformers which hasn’t been said already.  Hailing from the planet Cybertron, the heroic Autobots and evil Decepticons wage a secret war on Earth for control of resources (sometimes the space element Energon, sometimes the more mundane hydroelectric power).  They maintain their secrecy by disguising themselves as trucks, Lamborghinis, fighter jets, dinosaurs, samurai, monsters, and other commonplace items.  For a concept created solely to sell repurposed Japanese toys, there’s something enduring about the never-ending battle between the two factions, and it’s been built on and expanded in interesting ways, including Beast Wars and the more recent Transformers Animated.

But if Transformers is the second greatest robo-society, what’s number one?

1.  Bionicle

From: The eponymous LEGO toyline, and the comic, movie, and video game tie-ins

Best Known For:  Collecting Masks, meditating

I’ll easily admit that I’m a sucker for LEGOs, or any toy you build yourself.  But the thing that makes Bionicle so great (besides the marketing genius behind it; eight different masks for six different guys, all blind-boxed at $4 a pop?  BRILLIANT) is that it’s unbelievably different from other robot toylines.  Unlike its predecessor Throwbots or the new Hero Factory line, Bionicle characters don’t act like or generally acknowledge the fact that they’re machines.  They live in a tribal world populated by groups of mechanical people and animals, and are much more spiritual and serene that most automatons.  Bionicle draws heavily from different classical mythologies, particularly Maori, and creates a world in which tribal leaders and brave warriors battle evil creatures, all of which happen to be robots.  Combine that with some inspired character designs and you have the recipe for a fantastic story.

Do you guys agree?  Is my numbering off?  Have I deeply insulted you by omitting some mostly robotic sci-fi mainstays, like the Borg or the Daleks?  Let me know in the comments!!

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