We are in a not too distant future. The current trends of computerizing and automating more and more decisions, including military decisions, of more and more surveillance (both state and private companies), networking of more and more systems, and big data have ultimately lead to the computer systems gaining all the power and the humans being essentially powerless and at the mercy of the machines, which turn out to work against the humans. However unlike the typical Science Fiction scenario, this is not because of the machines turning sentient and actively fighting the humans, but it's just that as the computers were given more and more decisions, were more and more connected, and their different algorithms started to interact in complex ways, humans were gradually put out of power, often without even noticing at first, and then the dominance of the machines, following blindly their algorithms all optimizing their own little programmed objectives without considering the big picture — because they were not programmed for that — has caused a hostile environment combined with Orwellian surveillance: There are cameras and microphones everywhere (and you better don't try to disable them, or a former police computer classifies you as troublemaker, and might send an automated killer drone to your place), and thanks to big data the computer network perfectly tracks wherever you are.

OK, so much for the situation. Now a group of people intents to fight the computers. Since the computers are a mindless network, the way to do that is of course to hack into the system, try to disable key parts of the computer infrastructure, disable killer drones, manipulate cameras, all that. Which as soon as you've managed to get into the system can be reasonably be considered possible; they would use the powers they already have to gain control to more systems and do more manipulations until they ultimately succeed in either destroying the system, or at least reprogramming it to no longer working against humanity.

However there's the problem of starting this. Thanks to the universal surveillance, and the fact that you inevitably will need time to hack into any system, the universal computer network would certainly detect any attempt at hacking quickly and counteract (quite possibly with deadly force).

So my question: Is there any reasonable way how to successfully start the fight against the machines, without assuming some unrealistic weak spot (such as, for some strange reasons the machines don't do surveillance at a certain area)?

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for conceptualizing the orwellian machines not as sentient and malignant, but merely as complex systems doing what complex systems do. $\endgroup$ Mar 15, 2015 at 1:58
  • $\begingroup$ attack the power source, kill nearby power plants $\endgroup$
    – Jorge Aldo
    Mar 16, 2015 at 1:52

7 Answers 7


The way the question is asked, and the way the overwhelming physical resources of the orwellian systems is framed, it seems that the only true vulnerabilities will reside in

  • systems theory, and

  • information technology.

This actually has some very interesting dramatic possibilities.

@SerbanTanasa says "Never bring an ax to a Gamma laser fight", which is right and true, and I gave him a +1 on the strength of it. However, this isn't really a gamma laser fight either: it's an attempt to destabilize a complex system, via attack at the only feasible attack surface: the patterns of software code execution internally to nodes on the orwellian network, and message passing along the network itself.

This is kind of cool. Complex systems are amazing things. They may be incredibly tough, able to take terrible damage... and shake it off, and gradually resume normal, or normal-ish, operation. On the other hand, a comparatively minor perturbation can propagate through the system, irretrievably destabilizing the system so that it shatters; or collapses into stable patterns that are not much like what they used to be.

This is because complex systems are composed of feedback loops. Feedback loops are the fundamental analytical unit of systems theory, just as much as vectors are the fundamental analytical unit of physics.

Your attackers would need to generate malware that would be designed to inflict the kind of critical damage that would shake the system apart. It isn't about physical damage, particularly; it's about disrupting the feedback loops. You can do this by destruction of key nodes that are routes for feedback; or you can do it by inducing oscillations in the feedback loops until they fly apart under the strain.

Of course, your rebels would probably try everything. Their attacks would, in effect, become part of the system they are attacking. A fratricidal part.

...Damn, I hope you do write this. It could be a lot of fun to read. :-)

  • $\begingroup$ I really like the point about the attackers becoming part of the very system they attack (and thus certainly don't consider themselves part of). $\endgroup$
    – celtschk
    Mar 15, 2015 at 8:17
  • $\begingroup$ One interesting plot point could be the birth of a Savant able to do subtle, innocent things that together disrupt the system. A single human or even a team of programmers may not be able to figure out how to keep such chain reactions going but a savant would be able to see it by instinct. $\endgroup$
    – slebetman
    Mar 16, 2015 at 6:10
  • $\begingroup$ An example of a subtle reaction would be something like accidentally dropping your wallet at the right place and the right time causing someone to bend over to pick it up causing a flying drone to crash causing a garbage truck to swerve causing an ambulance to hit a cellphone junction box spilling some chemicals that degrades the signals just enough to cause other cell towers to keep on retrying to connect to it causing a massive DDOS attack scenario causing... $\endgroup$
    – slebetman
    Mar 16, 2015 at 6:13
  • $\begingroup$ Might be fun to read or incredibly boring. The major issue with soviet communism was that the feedback loops were broken, but it took decades before the damage got bad enough for actual political change to happen. That gives lots of chances for repairs. So the rebels would have to disable the core feedbacks needed for those repairs, and for that they'd not only need to be part of the system, they'd have to be among the core leadership. This would probably work, and I agree it is the best solution, but would they really count as rebels fighting the system, if they are the ones running it? $\endgroup$ Mar 16, 2015 at 6:15
  • $\begingroup$ I never claimed that it would be a fight. If you read my post, you'll see my primary approach is via quiet subversion, and I mentioned the physical resistance aspect mainly to warn against it as unrealistic. $\endgroup$ Mar 16, 2015 at 13:35

We must dissent

Cunning Humans

Directed, flexible, goal-oriented sentient processes (like humans) generally prevail over blind optimization processes (like your oppressive computer software), with few exceptions.

Since a world of 8 billion humans and trillions of smart devices is a hypercomplex environment, no amount of programming can specify optimizing behaviors to be undertaken in each world state, so a non-sentient intelligence like a computer will likely behave suboptimally in a vast number of these states, and catastrophically suboptimally under a subset of these conditions.

No software is bug and backdoor free, and among the thousands of engineers responsible for designing and maintaining the robot overlords, there are bound to be a few who dissent from the program.

Your best hope is to quietly identify these individuals, organize them using heavily encrypted digital or highly metaphorical physical communication methods.

Gradually, the set of vulnerabilities can be mapped, plans of approach created, vulnerable nodes subtly placed back under human control. Gradually, a committed group of humans can take over and disable the most pernicious parts of the system.

Feasibility of Physical resistance

The amount of actual physical resistance possible will vary dramatically with the technology setting. Has the overmind literally sprinkled the earth with dust-grain sized listening stations, or is simply going out to a field or a forest and stripping off your clothes sufficient to render the machines deaf and blind? If the latter, organizing a physical resistance movement is simple, and can potentially be effective. If the former, dissent will be far more difficult.

Never Bring an Ax to a Gamma Laser Fight

Even if the level of surveillance is not complete, the firepower at the disposal of the overmind system might render it ineffective. If the battery energy density question is solved by that point, you might end up fighting against bots and drones armed with gamma ray lasers. As you probably know, very few substances can resist the application of megawatt energy over a small area for any significant time. Humans in particular have a tendency to explode fairly spectacularly.

If such energy density levels are attainable by the overmind, heroics by individuals with Kalashnikov rifles will be brief and crispy affairs. Only by turning parts of the computer system against itself can humans have any hope of overcoming the overmind on the battlefield.

More likely, while leaving the heavy fighting to the subverted drones and bots, humans will fight their own fratricidal war, attritioning the base of loyal maintenance and design engineers, turning political figures and waging propaganda campaigns to gain further support.


Pass legislation

What do the Orwellian Machines use as their reference for marking people as trouble makers or criminals? If the machines just enforce the rules with cold, heartless, efficiency, then just change the rules.

Bonus points if the legislation causes one half of the system to remove the other half. ;p


Since much of the Orwellian system will be devoted to pattern identification and matching, the human "revolutionaries" will need to be as random as possible.

This is going to be difficult, since even looking at the sidebar of your Gmail page you can see the system can identify you by things like the keywords in your email, and your browsing history of Google. Big Data techniques take this up to 11, so trying to hide on the 'net is going to be difficult.

Getting off the net as much as possible (sending messages on pieces of paper that are never scanned, faxed or otherwise on the net) and using random number generation to decide on which douse of action to use (at the most primitive level, rolling a set of dice or drawing a card from an unmarked deck).

Enough of this could also start destabilizing the network, as pattern matching routines are disrupted with essentially null data (under a certain point the system might just be able to adapt), so somehow millions of revolutionaries will need to be working to undermine the system.


An interesting strategy might be to not attack the system directly.
One of my CS professors was talking about viruses and security, and was saying that the worst kind of virus wouldn't delete data and mess stuff up. Instead it would just go in and change data at random to believable but wrong values.

It would take longer to discover since nothing was actually broken, just wrong, and at least for a while any inconsistencies would be marked up to mistakes.

A computer dictator would be even more susceptible to this, since a human looking at the numbers would be able to use logic based on experience.

According to this data field, this person was born 150 years ago... that seems implausible...
While a computer can't question it's data. That would be like someone slipping you lsd without you knowing about it. As you start to trip and the bugs are crawling down the walls toward you, but you can't run away because your legs fell off, you won't be able to figure out that you're drugged until it's all over and your brain is working again.


Depending on how smart the machines are, you might get away with actually naming your son with a string of characters that breaks computer systems.

Also see this.

Less dramatically, the mass surveillance probably turns all your speech to text at some point, and passes the text to a higher layer. It could be vulnerable to malicious inputs. So just strike up a conversation about classic computer attacks, and be very precise with the descriptions of malicious inputs. Try to affect something near you so that you know when you hit the jackpot.

Good luck...


The old fashioned way. Lots of axes.

The best way to destroy a system like this is to go after physical infrastructure. Cut cables, take down transmission towers, shoot down killer drones. Pick and area, cleanse it, and hold it. Move on to the next one. Hacking is.. a finesse thing. Humans are much better at actually breaking things. Another advantage here is 'traditional' military tactics, both in terms of regular and irregular forces work here. For taking down a 'red' machine controlled zone, guerilla tactics - paint on cameras, and generally blowing up installations would work well. Once that's done, go in, and hold those areas.

Now, historically this has happened before on a small scale - the term luddite comes from that and it was ruthlessly put down. Along with... gross vandalism (as opposed to petty vandalism), you'd probably need enough organisation for folks doing this to protect themselves. In essence, you'd want a guerilla force with enough training and intelligence to know what to hit, and when to hide.


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