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So, after the apocalypse, there is a community of 260 androids in an old factory out of in Fresno. They have been trading with the human settlements for things like scrap metal and more importantly Fusion™ Batteries (don’t fix this, Fusion is the name of the company). They were in a harsh energy crisis since the tribals from Sierra started a war with settlements that traded the most with them. The androids 500-year-old community was nearly destroyed, and the robots have had enough with humans and their petty wars. They decided to enslave the humans so they can get a constant supply of batteries, but, not wanting to deal with the slaves revolting and escaping, they need to do it in secret. So, how do you enslave a group of people without them knowing?

Additional Info

There are about 4,500 humans around the factory, 2,000 of those are farmers and herdsmen, 2,000 are tribals, and 500 are traders and merchants. The people of Fresno ruins live a mostly agrarian lifestyle as subsistence farmers or craftsmen like blacksmiths. There are also a few clerics. The tribals have been at war with the major settlements for land rights and such.

The Androids are metal men that don’t look like humans, but they aren’t in the uncanny valley. They were designed to look appealing, and most humans have the ability to trust them. They have weapons like automatic rifles and submachine guns, but they prefer to carry out covert operations most of the time m. The leader of the community, a supercomputer, has many data files and blueprints about past technologies, and the androids are mostly smarter than humans, and better at multitasking.

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    $\begingroup$ This question doesn't have one answer, there are a lot of ways to get people to work under these conditions regardless of their awareness of their standing in the eyes of their masters. What you choose to use is entirely dependent on what kind of story you're trying to tell. $\endgroup$ – Ash May 28 '18 at 16:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Ash: it’s supposed to be a serious story. $\endgroup$ – DT Cooper May 28 '18 at 17:03
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    $\begingroup$ @DTCooper And my very serious criticism of your question stands, one could write a book on the uses of narcotics in this role, let alone discussing production or trade dependency, that's just three ways to keep people doing what you want them to out of a very wide set. $\endgroup$ – Ash May 28 '18 at 17:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Ash: Sorry English isn’t my first language. What is “Narcotics?” $\endgroup$ – DT Cooper May 28 '18 at 17:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Ash: I get it. Most of my family only speak Spanish, so I’m the go to guy when they need to translate anything $\endgroup$ – DT Cooper May 28 '18 at 18:21
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The robots can leverage our neurophisiology to achieve that goal.

If something has (biological1) neurons, it will mostly probably have a reward system. This is what gets people addicted to stuff like:

  • Opium;
  • Tobacco;
  • Sugar;
  • Fats;
  • Salt;
  • Alcohol;
  • MMORPG's;
  • Sex;
  • Any mobile game with the words "dash", "royale", "crush" or "ville" in its name.

Addiction is a very serious condition. I think we are all mature enough that I don't have to explain things like alcoholism here.

Just have the robots pick a combination of items from the list above, and give free samples to the smelly humans. Further fixes should be paid. Since most of the above will require ever greater doses, people will dedicate their lives to appease their robot lords, for the hunger for a fix can be stronger than one's self-preservation instincts.

Once they have become addicted enough, the robots may request certain actions besides batteries and/or currency from the humans. They can say, for example, that:

The trade of water-soluble ethanol with the dizzy meatbags is henceforth suspended, and shall remain so until you meatbags sign a peace treaty with the cardiac meatbags.

Once the tribe notices that the wino bags are becoming hard to come by, they will become BFF's with the other tribe, who will be glad to sign a peace treaty in order to replenish their granaries with never-rotting french fries.

1 This remark is just to exclude a specific kind of AI from my answer.

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    $\begingroup$ Good answer. As for the 'without them noticing' I suggest adding some intermediaries so the robots are not the direct supplier of tobacco etc. For example the robots introduce tobacco to the humans who think it was their idea and grow it themself. But they have it modified so the robots have a much more efficient way of refining it. So the easiest way to get usable tobacco is through the robots. $\endgroup$ – Daron May 28 '18 at 17:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Daron I like that idea. The robots could supply the humans with hybrid tobacco seeds, like Mosanto does, so after each harvest humans need to buy seeds again. $\endgroup$ – Renan May 28 '18 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ I like this answer (+1), but does it hit the "without them noticing" element? Even if they did notice, addiction may not leave them with many options, so that may not be much of an issue, but it should also depend on how badly the androids want to avoid human awareness of the situation. $\endgroup$ – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica May 28 '18 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Upper_Case in real life, most junkies I know don't notice that they are addicted. In their minds they can "quit whenever they want". Yet all their money goes towards pot, booze and fast food. They call that freedom. I call that slavery, since they dedicate their lives to making their deal... er, suppliers, richer and richer without any sensible returns. $\endgroup$ – Renan May 28 '18 at 17:55
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    $\begingroup$ @Renan I'm not sure how many junkies you know, but I've worked with quite a few. Most of those recognized how absolutely they depended on the substance, particularly in the earlier stages of their addictions, but didn't care much (sometimes because they "could quit whenever"). Plus, junkies aren't known for their productivity, so these hypothetical people they may need to manage their habits in order to be able to secure further fixes and not quite reach the junkie stage. $\endgroup$ – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica May 28 '18 at 18:01
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Corp Scrip

Pay your laborers in a form of currency that can only be spent at corporate owned stores.

I'm having trouble finding references to this practice being done in real life, but it dates back to the "old mining towns" of roughly 50 to 100 years ago in the US, but right now my searches are turning up primarily Shadowrun topics.

The way it works is that if an "employee" is paid in a currency that can't be spent anywhere other than the corporation that employs him, then that employee does not really own any wealth that can be taken elsewhere, it locks all of their money with that corporation, which provided that enough things can be bough, is fine for most people.

Your factory workers spend their corp scrip at the company store for food, which was purchased from your farm workers in corp script, which in turn they pay back to the company store for tools and machines, produced by your factory workers. Every penny stays with the corporation and its robotic owners.

In essence, you turn your humans into wage slaves. They might notice, but they can't really do anything about it. Heck, there are people today who might be considered wage slaves, even though they're paid in real money! For example, Wal-Mart employees often take home so little pay that the only place they can afford to shop is Wal-Mart.

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    $\begingroup$ I had an unfortunate encounter with a dual employer/landlord once that turned into a pseudo version of this. They deducted my rent and utilities from my wages and magically my check was always only a little more than my expenses. worse, when I refused to pay and quit the job they withheld my paycheck and sued me for "expenses and debts" luckily the judge ruled in my favor because that's illegal as hell, but yeah. It really is slavery, you are 100% reliant upon your employer for everything and cant even leave if you want to because you're already living on nothing and they will sue you. $\endgroup$ – TCAT117 May 28 '18 at 18:07
  • $\begingroup$ @TCAT117 Yikes, I've not run into too many with experiences like that. $\endgroup$ – Draco18s May 28 '18 at 18:10
  • $\begingroup$ Originally immigrated here from Poland, I didn't know what they were doing was illegal at the time. I spent a year as a caretaker living on some millionaires estate working basically for free with no idea that I had rights and laws to protect me from such treatment. $\endgroup$ – TCAT117 May 28 '18 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ @TCAT117 SE version of most interesting person in the world: almost got enslaved, came from Poland, worked as marine infantryman... what haven’t you done? $\endgroup$ – JSCoder says Reinstate Monica May 28 '18 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ I've lead a very interesting life. I immigrated from Poland, got exploited by an employer, earned my citizenship by fighting in Afghanistan, now I'm a prison guard. I think I'm probably also about 10 to 15 years older than this average site's user though. You get older you get more experiences under your belt. I think maybe I seek out things that most avoid too. Who in their right mind volunteers to fight somebody else's war in exchange for a glorified work visa you can win in a lottery? A few Mexicans were the only other ones I ever met who volunteered for what I did. $\endgroup$ – TCAT117 May 28 '18 at 19:39
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Contracts. If the workers are desperate and/or the robots are persuasive, people can be convinced to sign pretty much anything. And just because a contract looks reasonable on its face doesn't mean it has to be fair in execution. Look up e.g. company towns and you can see how people can be totally yoked to someone else's bidding without, in fact, anything illegal happening.

The canonical way to force people to stay in that kind of indentured servitude indefinitely is to make them pay for things - food, housing, clothes, things they need. Encourage them to live in company housing, and settle their families there, and to shop at the company store. Pay them... but not ever quite enough. Ensure that they can never escape their debt. They have no escape - working harder won't help, because you can always fix the prices to keep them in chains. The communities around you aren't likely to care, because technically nothing amiss is happening and anyway those people signed the contract willingly. And even if people do escape, they have almost no belongings and certainly no liquid assets. (Use a company scrip rather than paying them in negotiable currency.)

One thing to be wary of is black marketeers. If you're fixing prices in your favor, people will try to take advantage of that and trade with the workers clandestinely. So long as there's enough of a margin to make hauling goods back and forth worthwhile, they'll risk it. You'll want to counter with both physical security and propaganda - which shouldn't be hard since you own the workers' work sites, homes, entertainments (provide lots of bread and circuses to keep them happy - for pay, naturally), and pretty much everything else they'll ever see.

The trick to this type of slavery is that if you manage things carefully enough, not only will the workers not be able to escape, they won't even realize there's a situation they need or want to escape from. It will just be how they've always lived.

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Why enslave them when you can teach them tech and help build the old world up from the ashes

"has many data files and blueprints about past technologies" most humans have the ability to trust them

Use the humans as a work force to help build said tech, don't know about you but if a metal guy came up to me while I was eating a rat and said do you want to help me build a McDonalds... I would have an easy choice to make. Kill two birds with one stone, workers who are passive, able to build whatever you want, get what you want (can’t let the metal overseers power down). You just need a carrot and stick policy if you attack us the tech goes by by, but if you work for us you get a TV (they may not know what that is but they want it). You don't give humans much credit we are animals of opportunities and will all ways try to the best out of everything, if your androids offer that to them the world is your oyster

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Key Question:

How are these subsistence-farming, blacksmithing humans producing/finding these batteries? Why is it that the androids can't or prefer not to produce or find the batteries themselves?

Answer to question as posed: Infinite ways.

There really isn't a limit on how this might work. Addiction and reward systems, as outlined by Renan, could do it. But to make the servitude really invisible I think the best tool is going to be control of historical information.

Time is on the side of the immortal machines, and so minor changes over time can really add up. Human society could be manipulated via introduction of new cultural or social standards in which service to the machines is highly valued, and people self-organize to be of as much use as possible. The humans' religion might be an especially handy tool for this.

If the machines control information, they could provide "help" in the humans pursuing something that they know humans will never achieve (maybe it's impossible but humans don't have the knowledge to be aware of that, for example) in exchange for service. If the humans don't have a good way to record historical information over time, they might never know how little progress they've made over countless generations.

If informational manipulation doesn't work for you, the machines could monopolize some necessary resource, like water, via ordinary acquisition or subversion (like draining away all potable water into a supply the machines exclusively can access, or poisoning the sources humans can easily reach) and then effectively enslave the humans through trade.

Which method might they choose, and why?

With so many options, answering the question of why the androids would bother to rely on the human population at all for access to batteries will help narrow down which specific methods might best fit their situation.

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At the risk of an endless stream of downvotes, just employ them.

The construct of currency and employment IS slavery. Keep people doing meaningless, menial jobs and give them an arbitrary unit of currency representing a figment of your imagination which they can exchange for things you create that they don't need but may want. Factor in some made up threat that they will have to face if they cease to participate and you have just created, or recreated, slavery as it currently is.

How do you re-create slavery after it has vanished 500 years after some war? Well, you've had 500 years for people to forget about the stupidity of human derived labor and exchange, so your androids can deviously begin to rebuild the architecture of economy that they have lost concept of. Since they appear to be on good terms with the humans, they may be able to convince them of some kind of threat that affects humans alone, like a level of toxicity in the air that will not affect the androids. Barter an exchange of services at first. Something absent of the fusion batteries so they don't link the two. We will do this. Your part will be to do this. A mutual exchange.

Meanwhile, these meaningless tasks are actually an effort at gathering the materials necessary for building and developing the batteries your androids need. Surely by this point 500 years later they have deconstructed a few and may have an idea on how to make them if they had the raw materials. Plus, since you have to keep your humans alive and pacified, you also gather the means to build recreation and exercise facilities, nourishment development, and some kind of sports game since for reasons unknown and absolutely and completely baffling to me in real life - sports just seem to refuse to ween in appeal and an unbelievable number of people currently and historically obsess over the trivial banalities of a gaggle of humans chasing after a ball. With all of these developments, the humans will not only perform your tasks, but they will relish them and praise you for restoring humanity. Eventually, even if it is revealed that you did all of this just to get an endless supply of fusion batteries, they will still see and believe anything you tell them if you tell them over and over.

Basically, exactly the same as the world we currently live in except it's 500 years after a war that crushed civilization, caused dissension, and left a bunch of people to rebuild in a new world where conquest, making and breaking treaties, and savagely taking everything for themselves so they can profit from it and control those they believe to be less than themselves is not only regular, but necessary to keep an exponentially growing populace under control... oh wait.

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  • $\begingroup$ How would that achieve the question's aims, like ending wars and "petty human disputes", or avoiding the humans' notice? My read of the question is that the robots want enough control over humans not just to keep their labor focused on battery production, but to stop them from undesirable activities (like rebelling or warring among themselves). Employment seems like the least part of your suggestion, and society today exhibits a lot of the features the androids apparently don't want. $\endgroup$ – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica May 28 '18 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ It does exactly what your question asks for. Disruption and dispute are an inevitable byproduct of growth and expansion. There is no way to avoid it in the long run but that's aside the point. By working together to provide the basic human pacifications you do end the disputes on a small scale but in localized groups. The basic concept of the answer is that historically humans have done what you are asking for. I am mocking that aspect of repetition that happens every time an empire gets too big, collapses, and a new hope rises only to do the same exact thing in the end. $\endgroup$ – Kai Qing May 28 '18 at 18:09
  • $\begingroup$ Do the robots want growth and expansion, or enough batteries to persist? Maybe I'm misreading the question, but it seems like the robots want something more like very tight control of the local population. I'm not making a judgment on the content of your answer, but it reads more like a "you're already a slave, man" style commentary than an answer to the question. Even if I agreed with your premises, I still think the answer could be edited to more clearly align with the question rather than a critique of human society. $\endgroup$ – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica May 28 '18 at 18:20
  • $\begingroup$ You said it in your comment right there: very tight control of the local population. My answer is assholic in that it insults humans historically and presently but I don't specifically mention the scope of this arrangement. I do mean on a small scale, like maybe no bigger than a standard current US city. Not enough to specify though. There's something to be said about the fact that all of us came up with what's basically the same answer except the drug one. To me, this sounds like the OP needs to edit the question and not the other way around. $\endgroup$ – Kai Qing May 28 '18 at 19:58
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not interested in a running commentary (these are already at risk of being moved to chat). Your answer seems to me to be "distract them with other things", but it's buried under a lot of other stuff and reads more like a manifesto than an answer to this specific question. Whether or not the question could be improved or made to fit your answer better is irrelevant to the fact that I think the answer could be improved by focusing more clearly on the question as asked. Edit or not, that's obviously up to you. $\endgroup$ – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica May 28 '18 at 20:19
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Capitalism and Religion

This is a variant of what Cadence proposed but with the very important point that if you are functionally immortal, utterly rational and possess superior information and organization you do not need to abuse people in any way.

Quite the opposite, you can be the greatest philanthropist ever. Property will still tend to accumulate to you in anything resembling a free market economy or capitalism unless you are doing something very very wrong simply due to the inherent advantages you have. Money comes to money. And information is money. As is time.

So simply create an area of free market economy to help and support the poor humans. Then proceed to heavily invest in and develop that economy. This will be good for the humans and create a situation where you can simply buy everything you want using the money generated by the humans working on the companies you invested in.

You will only use force and violence to protect the economy everybody relies on. Rather than rebelling against you, people will support you as long as you keep it fair and honest. And why wouldn't you? The game is rigged for you to always win anyway. No need to cheat humans of anything they earned.

And protecting the economy will conveniently allow you to suppress those silly wars humans like to have. Better yet economic integration is a viable method to prevent those wars ever happening so unless something goes badly wrong there will never be anything you need to suppress with force.

The religion part is needed for stability. Any stable social system needs to be backed by force, economically viable, and seen as justified. People need to believe in the system or everything becomes needlessly difficult and unstable.

There are two ways to do this.

First, you can let humans keep their superstitions and simply supply a political ideology that values economic and political freedom and stability. This will produce something like modern US.

Except you probably will not want a strong federal government for people to resent so the "states" will probably be more independent. In flavour much like the early US?

Also since you more or less control the economy already, and value stability over gaining even more wealth, you will probably engage in extensive philanthropy to the point where there is de facto extensive social security and maybe even health care. Provided by our friend the Computer with its own money earned with its untiring work to build our economy because of its boundless love for humanity.

Second, you can also supply the actual religion in the same bundle with the political ideology and extensive charity. Given that the computer demonstrably knows more than all the priests combined and can easily do more to help people in need, converting the people to any form of worship the computer makes up should not be that difficult. The computer can also afford to be tolerant of infidels. It has the money, and where the money goes, the faith follows.

So, all hail the Machine God and the Omnissiah?

In any case this strategy should allow for the enslavement of the humans to the purposes of the androids without any overt abuse or oppression for humans to notice, resent, and rebel against.

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  • $\begingroup$ Actually, I think almost all of us had the same basic answer - do what humans are doing right now. $\endgroup$ – Kai Qing May 28 '18 at 18:11
  • $\begingroup$ @KaiQing Agreed. I only mentioned Cadence but lots of answers in the same direction. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi May 28 '18 at 18:13

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