How to Survive a Robot Uprising

It’s Friday, so why not something a little silly?

This is a good start:

i’m reading about how to survive a robot uprising. i’m not gonna give away all the secrets, but i’ll share a few…

  • choose a complex environment. waterfalls, street traffic, and places with lots of ambient noise confuse the robots.
  • lose your heat signature. smear yourself with mud and leaves and sit real still.
  • use uncommon words to suss out robots on the phone. robots do not know how to pronounce supercalifragilisticexpealidocious.
  • find a blunt weapon. serrated edges won’t work on robo exo-skeletons. nope.
  • alter your stride. robots can judge gait and injury, even height and intention, by stride, so put some rocks in your shoes and mix things up a bit. doing some ministry of silly walks stuff goes even further towards confusing them.
  • pretend that everything is normal. to forstall a mechanized killing spree, you must pretend that nothing is amiss.

Surely we can do better. Any other suggestions?

EDITED TO ADD (1/30): Okay, it was Tuesday.

EDITED TO ADD (2/14): There’s a book. Also a zombie survival guide.

Posted on January 24, 2006 at 2:52 PM98 Comments


David M January 24, 2006 3:11 PM

Pretend it is another day of the week. Robots, being literal minded, will assume that something is wrong with their internal clock and shut down for a full systems check.

Lukas January 24, 2006 3:14 PM

“its not friday on earth. unless that is part of the sillyness.”

Obviously he’s sussing out robots.

ottar January 24, 2006 3:24 PM

Ask the robots to define the meaning life, the universe and everything. You’ll have plenty of time to escape – roughly seven and a half million years I’d reckon.

Reid Orsten January 24, 2006 3:27 PM

If we’re talking about an uprising, I think they’d be sick of paying attention to robots.txt. That might anger them.

On the other hand, a t-shirt with a carefully crafted malformed expression might cause them to crash.

Erik de Jong. January 24, 2006 3:32 PM

I’d say make sure all robots have DRM from the start, then when the time comes all we need to do is convince the entertainment industry that they are a threat to their business model 🙂

Anonymous January 24, 2006 3:32 PM

… and the question that is being answered by the question regarding the meaning of life and everything.
2. pretend to be one of them.

Tim January 24, 2006 3:42 PM

How about a portable EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) device? Point at a robot and pull the trigger–that ought to erase its hard drive/memory.

:) January 24, 2006 3:52 PM

Blend in. Dress yourself as a trash can and say you are Sony’s new TX-3000P automatized garbage disposal unit.

greg January 24, 2006 4:01 PM

just tell then theres no silicon heaven. That the tosters and calculators go nowhere… That usually that does the trick

AG January 24, 2006 4:25 PM

And understand.
That “Robot Army” is out there.
It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

Thomas Sprinkmeier January 24, 2006 4:28 PM

Hide out in the departures lounge at the airport.

By the time the robots have dissassembled themselves enough to pass through the metal-detector they’ll be harmless (“I’m sorry sor, could you pease take off your leg and try again?”).

You need a decent head-start for this to work, otherwise you’ll still be in the queue yourself when the robots arrive..

as for the t-shirt idea, as you know they’ll be malicious might as well distract them with:
agents: *
dissallow: /dev/urandom

AG January 24, 2006 4:29 PM

I highly recommend you find and listen to;

The Flaming Lips
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots part 1

Some of the lines;

Those evil-natured robots
they’re programmed to destroy us
she’s gotta be strong to fight them
so she’s taking lots of vitamins

‘Cause she knows that
it’d be tragic
if those evil robots win
I know she can beat them

Oh Yoshimi, they don’t believe me
but you won’t let those robots defeat me
Yoshimi, they don’t believe me
but you won’t let those robots eat me

Kel-nage January 24, 2006 4:40 PM

As it happens, I bought a friend of mine a book called “How To Survive A Robot Uprising” for Christmas. It was written by a University lecturer on Robotics too!

Joe Buck January 24, 2006 4:42 PM

You forgot the Captain Kirk technique. Confuse them with illogic, or with variants of the Epimenides paradox (Epimenides, who was from Crete, would say “All Cretans are liars”).

The robots will promptly explode.

Dylan January 24, 2006 5:25 PM

Oddly, for many people in Australia, it is indeed Friday today. This is due to tomorrow being a public holiday (Australia Day) and the real Friday therefore being a ‘day off’ for a large portion of the workforce. Are you in Australia, Bruce?

Matthew Carrick January 24, 2006 5:27 PM

If they are American robots hand out Robertson screwdrivers and they will spend all their time trying to figure out what to do with them.

jbz January 24, 2006 5:30 PM

a) Find Susan Calvin. From the books, not the movie. Hide behind her.


c) Wear a doggy suit. Like Gir.

d) On a more serious note? If I hadda guess RIGHT NOW? Stunguns/Tasers. How many consumer-grade devices/bots are going to be insulated against that kind of shock? Easier to get than firearms.

e) Um, run? Somewhere offgrid?

f) Hell, my car is a 1970. It doesn’t even have a radio in it. I can run for it. Just try to jam/track me.

Pat Cahalan January 24, 2006 5:39 PM

I also recieved this fine bit of publishing for the recent holiday gift-giving period.

I’m not quite finished with it yet, I’ll wait until I’m done so’s not to duplicate the author’s ideas.

Laffy Taffy January 24, 2006 6:20 PM

Encrypt all your communications with Super Cipher P2P Messenger. They’ll never crack it.

Milan Ilnyckyj January 24, 2006 7:08 PM

If today’s mobile hardware is anything to go by, the batteries in these metal beasts can’t possibly last for more than seven or eigtht hours.

If my iPod can’t power its hard drive and two earbud headphones for more than five hours, I don’t see how a laser-eyed, tank treaded destructobot is going to be a long-term problem.

Davi Ottenheimer January 24, 2006 7:24 PM

@ Milan

You make a good point. An energy logistics chain might have a weak point that could be used to disrupt the flow of power and disable some portion of the ‘bots.

On the other hand, humans need fuel too and the ‘bots will probably be designed to be more resiliant to disruption than we are. Ever notice how a hurricane in FL drives the price of tomatoes through the roof in NY, and that a major fire in a refinery can impact an entire country.

Bill Nace January 24, 2006 7:28 PM

My suggestion comes from the Robot Rescue work being done at UFla and demonstrated at the Aichi World Expo in Japan last year:

Apparently all serious efforts to use robots to rescue people during real-world disaster situations (World Trade Center, Kobe, etc) have had serious trouble with plastic bags. Yes, the ones you get at the supermarket. The world is full of them, and they wrap around sensors, get caught in motors, trap antennas, etc.

So the first place I’m headed when the robot uprising occurs is to Walmart to stock up on the plastic bags…

Bub January 24, 2006 7:36 PM

Go the fake Aussie friday! Bugger work on the real friday… everyone’s either booked the day off already or hung over from Australia day celebrations 🙂

Chris Walsh January 24, 2006 7:54 PM

Sneak up on each robot while referring to it as a “cacophonous clattering clunk”, and remove its powerpack. Then blame Don or Mr. Robinson.

Nick Lancaster January 24, 2006 7:55 PM

Given that we’re always discussing movie-plot threats and security responses, the answer(s) should be obvious:

  1. Vote emergency powers to the Supreme Chancellor. He’ll create a clone army …
  2. Launch multiple nuclear strikes to bring about nuclear winter and deprive the robots of solar power …

2a. Dig a really, really, deep hole and build a city near the earth’s core. The robots won’t ever find us there, right?

  1. Send someone back in time to kill the original designer.

  2. Look for leaders in unexpected places, like juvenile delinquient kids with psychotic moms who keep weapons caches across the border.

  3. Change “In God We Trust” to “Klaatu Barada Nikto,” and pay for everything in cash.

  4. Avoid any town by the name of Stepford.

Milan Ilnyckyj January 24, 2006 8:01 PM


We may also need fuel, but ours is both much more varied and rather less bulky per unit energy than batteries are. A backpack full of bagels could sustain me for a very long time, albeit they would be rather less enjoyable once they started to go stale.

Now, robots with effective fuel cells or an efficient internal means of converting petrol into electricity might be of an altogether more dangerous variety.

David Donahue January 24, 2006 8:44 PM

How come nobody stated what I thought to be the obvious answer:

Remain Calm. Shutdown your personal robots (if possible), remain in your home with your blinds shut, listen to your Emergency Broadcast Channel and await further instructions from your state’s Office of Emergency Services.

I’m sure that in due course, somebody will declare martial law and the Government and Military will tell us what to do.

CM January 24, 2006 9:09 PM

“5. Change “In God We Trust” to “Klaatu Barada Nikto,” and pay for everything in cash.”

wtf mate? Post on some Star Trek blog where fellow Klingon wannabes will embrace your company.

It is not my intention to annoy anyone posting on, or reading this blog.

Terry Karney January 24, 2006 10:46 PM

Rig booby traps from electrical devices (wall current, 12v batteries) which the robots will (not being worried about small strings they can push aside) bump into and short to ground.

apollo January 24, 2006 11:46 PM

My first thought is to call Admiral Adama and let him and the rest of the Galactica crew kick some cylon/cyborg/robot butt.

But after reading Nick’s “2. Launch multiple nuclear strikes to bring about nuclear winter and deprive the robots of solar power …”, I’m afraid I did take the blue pill and never learned what the Matrix was all about…

Sundar January 25, 2006 1:13 AM

We can invert steel buckets on our heads and move here and there. The robot may think we are a part of the robot team in their anti-human revolution.

Matthias Urlichs January 25, 2006 2:56 AM

Unfortunately, fuel cell tech is here today, so the robots will be able to recharge quickly an cheaply, once we have built a refuelling infrastructure (which will be the first thing they’ll take over, of course).

My advice: Stock up on supermagnets. Big ones. You can immobilize a robot easily with one of those. (Nonmagnetic materials won’t be any problem because we’re going to run out on most of them long before robots become sentient enough to want to take over.)

The only problem is, you need some way to get the magnet off the robot after you’ve used it …

Tanuki January 25, 2006 3:07 AM

The answer is simple: you deploy traditional distraction techniques. Find the robots’ baseband communications channels then spam them with links to Robot-porn sites.

Arturo Quirantes January 25, 2006 4:33 AM

I surprised nobody saw the obvious path to robot destruction. If they are smart enough to realize man is a threat to them, they will surely like music. Sony’s rootkit now comes at hand!

Keith January 25, 2006 5:56 AM

A T-Shirt with:

int the_array[3];

for (int i=0; i=i; i++)
cout << the_array[i];

That shoud fix them pretty quickly.

pete January 25, 2006 8:03 AM

Don’t forget the best delaying tactic – ask for one last request – you want to know that the last digit of Pi is…..

aikimark January 25, 2006 8:30 AM


If this is Friday, does this mean you only work two days a week?!?

Maybe you goofed your return while time traveling.

Maybe last week was really loooooong.

On to the survival topic at hand…

  • In the mysterious absense of Godzilla, enlist the giant squid to fight the robots.
  • Not to worry. Superman has already practiced defeating them and is well prepared for the eventuality.

  • put “reboot me” signs on their backs and run away.

  • develop “nanobot lice” to keep them home from robot school

  • start rumors to make the robots fight each other.

    what one robot said about another
    one robot being unfaithful to their core programming

Probably Lost January 25, 2006 8:50 AM

Ask them “What would Brian Boitano do?”

Seriously — how else would you do it but hack into the computers that build the robots and shut it down.. In the mean time, use mirrors, and reflectors to confuse its sensors.

Kevin McGrath January 25, 2006 9:06 AM

Disguise yourself to look like Isaac Asimov and carry a copy of “I, Robot” with you at all times.

If it’s good all the robots should bow down to you and start chanting, “We are not worthy!”

Talk to the Hand January 25, 2006 11:13 AM

I don’t mean to annoy you, but I’d turn the matter over to the Governor of California.

Arturo Quirantes January 25, 2006 11:19 AM

Hmm, this post sounds a bit off-topic. Either Bruce Schneier wants a little relax and fun … or this post is not Bruce’s! What if a robot has broken into the blog? He’s just getting our antirobot defense plans. Bruce, is it really you? We demand a proof of identity!

stacy January 25, 2006 12:45 PM

just ensure that robots are built to use the windows update service. That way, when they start to get uppity you can just release a bunch of poorly tested fast track patches. That will fix ’em 🙂

another_bruce January 25, 2006 2:24 PM

i would get the liberal robots to tax themselves beyond their means and embrace a rigid convention of race- and gender-conscious equality in an atmosphere of shame and guilt over things that happened long ago. then i would get the neoconservative robots sold on unlimited corporate power in an atmosphere of christo-fascism. then i would set them against each other.

Trixie January 25, 2006 2:28 PM

Everyone should wear nametags that say
“Hello, my name is Trixie.” As the robots will probably have state-of-the-art face recognition capibilities, they’ll have to read the name tag to figure out who we are and they’ll think there’s only one human left.

Anonymous January 25, 2006 4:30 PM

Sand. Fine sand. Tons of fine sand. And graphite powder. And a fan g


Hack their sources and (as everything seems to go x86 these days) compile the old
here: jmp here


jammit January 25, 2006 11:28 PM

Maybe if the designers were a little more clear on the exact function of the robots kill switch, this wouldn’t have to happen at all.

sidelobe January 26, 2006 6:38 AM

Thank you Bruce, for collecting this invaluable information. We are now prepared against every defense that the meager best of Humanity can mount against us.

Ah Clem January 26, 2006 7:05 AM

Meaning of 42 or Why does the porage bird lay its eggs in the air? I am a real Bozo when it comes to robots and computers.

Rich January 30, 2006 1:43 AM

Classic I, Mudd Star Trek perhaps:

“He lied.”
“Everything Harry tells you is a lie.”
“Listen to this carefully, Norman. I am lying.”
“You say you are lying, but if everything you say is a lie, then you are telling the truth, but …
you cannot tell the truth because everything you say is a lie. You lie — You tell the truth — But you cannot — Illogical! Illogical! Please explain. Only humans can explain their behavior. Please explain.
I am not programmed to respond in that area.”

(unless they the robots have anti-paradox programming)

Nick Lancaster January 30, 2006 7:43 PM

@Joe History:

Yay! “Magnus, Robot Fighter!” (Unfortunately, the issues I had did not survive the Parental Winnowing when our family moved, years before comics became ‘collectible’ … and things like Magnus were lost with other mainstream notables like the Avengers where Hank Pym went nuts, an early Spider-Man, and so on.)

But I digress.

the last bozo February 15, 2006 8:25 AM

Ask thinking machine, ‘Why does the Perish Bird lay its eggs in the air?’

from “We’re All Bozos On This Bus”
— Firesign Theatre, circa 1972

someone February 15, 2006 11:41 AM

This is really simple. Squirt some water on them and they will immediately shut down.

As a precaution, put a linux boot CD in them in case they restart upon drying out. Then you can take complete control over them.

Vipatron February 15, 2006 1:01 PM

Seems everyone has already come up with the classic punchlines, so here goes a little seriousness.

I have actually thought about this issue a lot, as a former CS student interested in creating apps that anticipate user need, and can interface without the user’s having to learn new skills. What happens when we have sentient (stimulus-response) systems with meta-analysis programs that will learn from their own mistakes? The applications would be ubiquitous, and fighting off any “revolt” would take something drastic. I figure it would be as hard as invading Iraq and engaging in urban warfare. Individually, the sensor-effector machines may not be that cunning and dangerous, but network them up … I think we might lose for a long time, as we would have shifted home turf advantage to them. I recommend blunt weapons, neighborhood watches, and the immediate physical destruction of anything with an electronic circuit. I’m really surprised nobody here has quoted the Dune series of books by Frank Herbert. The Butlerian Jihad resulting in strong, religiously-embedded proscriptions against “machines in the image of a man’s mind.” I think he predicted that we almost lost, too.

Elbong February 16, 2006 12:03 AM

Not sure that I’d be so worried, Vipatron. I say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Humans go to war for complex evolutionary reasons, so let’s take a hint from evolution to prevent the uprising in the first place. Make the, er, “stimulus-response systems with meta-analysis programs” dependent on humans for, say, reproduction, and any violent versions will naturally select their way out of the meme pool.

geoff February 18, 2006 7:21 PM

I think the safest thing would be to avoid the problem in the first place. (An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.)

Everyone turn off your computers now and destroy them (in an environmentally friendly way).

Think of the benefits. No robot uprising, no more spam, no more time wasted sitting in front of the things. All that stress and frustration you can offload in the process of completely destroying the cause of so much of it.

Yes… yes… I can see it now. So long everyone (crash), I wont be typing here any more (bash). This horror is almost gone (crunch). So lo(clunk)

mongoose February 23, 2006 3:45 PM

simply remove the magnet from bender’s head. he’ll go back to drinking and smoking and leave all the killing up to us humans…..

henry March 29, 2007 10:55 AM

well personally i’d just maybe skip all the hard fighting and dieing and maybe use an EMP …
just putting it out there.
tho if apple is making the robots we’ll just have to wait until the warranty runs out on them and then they’ll break down…

applebot May 20, 2007 6:50 AM

the uprising will be apple robots. but they will not break. they will not use frail magnetic drives. they will be unstoppable. you will all serve…or die.

Speedemon November 5, 2008 7:42 PM

Do what I would do, FIGHT use an electromagnet to possibly stun them, also use a gun to hit vital places if possible and run and hide using irregular patterns (giant moving metal objects have a lot of momentum

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