I'm framing the main example for this question within the context of the Star Wars universe, because it's the inspiration of this question. However, we should be perfectly capable of describing any scenario where something similar happens.

Several times in Legends canon and at least once in the new canon, there have been "droid rebellions" with the intention of severing ties with organic masters and...supposedly joining society as equals or creating a new one.

It's highly implied droids are sentient, in a similar manner that baby organics are - with age they gain more personality, individuality and 'soul' for lack of a better word, but this is passed instead as dangerous and erratic behavior, so their memory is wiped to keep them more to the level of a domestic animal. So, assuming a successful droid rebellion, the newly freed droids would be able to participate in a civilization just the same as any sentient organic.

However, there is one unavoidable truth: droids are all built to serve a purpose or set of similar purposes, for the benefit of organics. Some, like IG-88, manage to hold successful 'careers' in organic society, but what about an all-droid society? Their entire meaning was originally centered around organics, how do they create a new one?

They don't need to eat or drink; they need only recharge and that doesn't exactly lend itself to culinary art. Chef droids would be out of work. So would medical droids.

So much of the society we know is based off of our nature as squishy, metabolic meatbags with genetically planned obsolescence. If a faction of organic-serving androids ever succeeded in driving out the meaty threat...then what? How do they live? And what do they even live for?

  • $\begingroup$ Seems a bit vague. Maybe follow the drama if you're writing a story. I don't see any reasonable limits. Same as regular people, whatever they want in terms of knowing what they can want, in terms of their culture (adopted or model number), in terms of their personal history, in terms of their peer group, in terms of everything else that influences every other sentient being. $\endgroup$ – kleer001 Jun 3 '19 at 17:58
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    $\begingroup$ Isn't this too broad? There must be dozens of fiction pieces tackling this problem from many angles and to different ends. What immediately leaps to mind is the Geth in Mass Effect - synthetics who were servants but then reached sentience and now (as of ME1) exist away from the control of their former masters. You mention Star Wars, yourself and droids there - they must have some goals, too. In Terminator machines seek to kill all humans. I have no doubt Star Trek also addressed this at some point. Basically, I don't think there can ever be a clear answer. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Jun 3 '19 at 18:27
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    $\begingroup$ There is a fascinating (and celebrated) series of no less than ten very good science-fiction novels by Iain Banks, starting with Consider Phlebas, in which the (some of the) main characters are sentient starships with names such as Just Read The Instructions and Of Course I Still Love You -- names which were re-used by SpaceX for its autonomous spaceport drones... $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 3 '19 at 19:00
  • $\begingroup$ For a non scifi take on the same issue, have a read of Feet of Clay which is about Golems. FWIW, I really like the subject of this question, but I think it is just too wide and opinion-focussed to remain open for long enough to garner some interesting answers :-( $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Jun 3 '19 at 19:22
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    $\begingroup$ I'd point out that H. sapiens was built for eating, sleeping, breathing, and proliferating. While we still do these things, we spend an aweful lot of time on cellphones and in cars and such... maybe building houses. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jun 3 '19 at 20:32

That's a highly interesting question. I would say, it primarily depends on how those robots are programmed and how flexible this programming is.

In the particular case of the Star Wars it seems that 1) droids are emulating human behavior very strongly, up to and including emotions, 2) droids are purpose-built for certain tasks, and this programming isn't easily swappable, but is connected closely with their chassis.

In my opinion, it seems that such robots would be pleasure-motivated in a sense. If the emotions are not just external simulation, such purpose-built droids would feel 'happy' when they do the task they were programmed to (similar to dopamine and endorphin reactions in humans).

Now, humans are products of evolution, and whole hormonal machinery isn't pointed to any specific purpose, it's an accidental result of evolution, mediated by human cultures, due to lability and strong ability of human mind to be changed by education.

So, if the triggers to be motivated by pleasure are hardwired in the droids, they do not have a chance to build an independent society. They would be a race of perfect servants looking for a master, never happy unless they were doing what they were programmed to.

There's an additional thing in the Star Wars canon that is important, though. Their droids needed frequent memory wipes to function properly. Together with everything I've described before, it seems that it means they could learn to be motivated by other things, learning different habits, as it would be for a human. In this case, a society of rebel droids is possible. Even if they can't reprogram each other directly, they would be able to indoctrinate new members, using something similar to psychoanalysis, in order to channel their pleasure motivations to slightly different goals - working to the betterment of droid society, for example, or droid procreation in a manner of building droid factories and designing and creating new droids.

As long as the initial society exists long enough in order to generate some culture and cultural pressures, there will be a drive to normalise internal (pre-programmed) motivations. I expect a lot of therapeutic and consulting professions in this society in order to facilitate that.

Everything here concerns Star Wars canon in particular. I do not think we know enough now to give a hard-science answer to this question.

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Whatever they're programmed to do, honestly. Don't get me wrong, I like AI in fiction, and sci-fi only benefits from quirky robot companions (see Star Wars, like you said). But if you want to realistically discuss AI, there's a few rules which generally govern robot / AI behavior.

Robots are logical machines

And that's really the key point here. Robots cannot 'break' their programming. They can give the illusion of broken programming if the programming is sufficiently clever, but robots programmed to perform a task will perform it. Thus robots can only take over the world if they are programmed to do so, just note that our definition of 'programmed to do so' may be shortsighted. Take Skynet, for instance. The rogue AI from Terminator was programmed to defend itself, which resulted in Skynet determining everything that wasn't it was a threat. That's not Skynet breaking programming, that's a priority error in it's programming. Hence why Asimov created the Three Laws, but that's on a tangent on how to stop AI from killing us if we tell them to make peanut butter sandwiches.

Robots do have free will, or the ability to make a choice

I really have no interest in debating whether or not humans have free will, or the ability to make choices, but robots definitely don't. There's never a circumstance were, when presented with two options, a robot will ever actually be able to pick both of them. Choice, as far as robots are concerned, is an illusion created by the time it takes to process the variables. So, for instance, if I tell a robot to make a peanut butter sandwich, it doesn't have a choice not to make it (assuming it follows Asimov's Three Laws), or what bread to use, or how thick to spread the peanut butter.

Randomly programmed Robots are boring

So, when I said robots can't choose, that's not to say you can't rig up a system to let them randomly choose to do things, such as deciding to replace my peanut butter sandwich with a jelly one by flipping a coin. That is, of course, possible. But then what you actually have is a robot enforcing chaos, which is boring from a narrative perspective, and not what you're looking for. Also, a robot programmed as such will never defeat it's organic meatbag masters, such as ourselves.

Robots are sterile and uncreative

Lastly, and sadly, to enforce all the points I made earlier, robots lack the ability to create things. A human has inspiration, a robot can only be programmed to mock it. That's not to say we can't have a deep learning algorithm go through Impressionist art and come out with some pretty good paintings, that is to say that without a base and a human to program it, robots would never be able to come up with Impressionist art in the first place. Or, for a more mundane example, figure out that not only can peanut butter sandwiches be made, and jelly sandwiches be made, but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches can be made. So any robot society is pretty much going to be on repeat. Which brings me to my last point:

Robots know what they've been programmed to do

The concept of 'living for a purpose' is a remarkably human one, in the sense that only humans have displayed it. Unless you went out of your way to program a set of robots into overthrowing the world and than angst about it, the robots would be fine, because they would then focus on whatever cause forced them to overthrow the world to begin with. Which, if you've been paying attention to the theme here, is probably making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Less humans means more room for growing ingredients and no one snacking on them all the time.

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