I'm imagining a world where every human spends their entire life in a confined space that just barely fits the human and provides the with everything they need. Essentially, it's like wall-e taken to the extreme.

enter image description here

Unlike in wall-e, these human do not need to directly interact with (or even perceive) the outside world. However, I would like these spaces that contain humans to still move around a lot. And that's where my problem lies:

How do I justify robots moving these spaces around if the humans in them don't want to physically go anywhere?

I'll provide some direction for the answers, but you can ignore it if you have a better solution that goes against what I suggest here:

It seems likely that initially, these spaces were more optional and largely meant for transportation. And that humans slowly started to spend more and more time in them. For some time, people would probably still want to be able to get their two spaces together and get together in some communal room. It's therefor not unlikely that the system that moves the spaces around is still there and functional. There will of course still be situations where human will need to move out of their space (or at least the space needs to move), such as medical emergencies. This can certainly explain some activity. The difficulty lies in justifying it being used a lot.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "provides them with everything they need" is very unlikely. If they develop a serious medical problem it is unlikely that everything will come to them (MRI scanners come to mind). IMO If you do not execute your idea to the extreme (don't overact - hint hint), that leaves some room for required movements. You could e.g. make that very occasional events with all the associated emotions. $\endgroup$
    – user3106
    Commented Nov 18, 2014 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ @JanDoggen Good point, I've added some more info to my question. Keep in mind that I'm not putting a limit on how far in the future this takes place though. $\endgroup$
    – overactor
    Commented Nov 18, 2014 at 14:06
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ how exactly do said humans interact with the world? $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Nov 18, 2014 at 22:21
  • $\begingroup$ This question appears to be off-topic because it is about idea generation. $\endgroup$
    – Shokhet
    Commented Nov 20, 2014 at 19:48
  • $\begingroup$ How useful to confine all humanity to pods in the land of COVID. These were a little ahead of their time... $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Commented Sep 20, 2020 at 4:15

6 Answers 6


I would go for a simple and logical software decision:

Let's say the infrastructure is designed to care for humans but has limited self-repair capabilities. When a section of the humans warehouse starts to fall apart, the software might decide to move some humans to a new place (either temporarily during a repair attempt, or more permanently, abandoning this part of the building).

Now imagine the new section they are in also starts to malfunction (after all, it has been so long any human has ever gotten out of their containers, things are degrading out there). The software will try and find a new better place for them (and this might very well be the previous section it got them out of in the first place because it now appears in a better state than the new one they are in at the moment).

Just relocating the humans to the best available section of your infrastructure, if said infrastructure is slowly crumbling down, would be enough to provoke a constant moving around of humans in their containers.

A software designed to manage stock always takes into consideration costs (here it would be cost of moving vs cost of leaving them in a section that is falling apart) and as soon as the balance tips, it triggers a migration of part of your human population.

And finally, as mentioned by Cragor, this also obeys the first law of robotics:

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ ... and thereby follows the first law of robotics. Love it! $\endgroup$
    – Crabgor
    Commented Nov 18, 2014 at 14:30
  • $\begingroup$ The laws of robotics are not universal, even in fiction. You can trivially have robots which follow a very different set of rules. While not exactly robots, think Terminators for example. Or Robocop? $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Nov 19, 2014 at 8:59
  • $\begingroup$ true. Did i ever mention I am a roboticist? :-) $\endgroup$
    – Sheraff
    Commented Nov 19, 2014 at 10:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling You do not need to look far for example, Issaac gave us enough. Solaria in Assimiov Foundation and Earth (which connects Foundation and Robots series) had robots seemingly violating Laws (due to different definition of "human" if I recall correctly), in some short novels there are robots build without one or more laws due to physical inability to violate them (eg. robot bee) and even victory of maternal instinct over First Law. And there is also Zeroth Law. $\endgroup$
    – PTwr
    Commented Nov 19, 2014 at 10:21

If the humans in question have no need/desire for external stimuli, the motivations for moving them about is entirely dependent upon the conditions and operating instructions of the system managing the humans.

The first things which come to mind are relocation for facility maintenance (presuming maintenance of the holding bay for human pods needs attention more often than after the full lifetime of occupants) or specialized medical needs (presuming small pods cannot handle any and all medical issues or that resources are even spent on advanced medical care), but after that I think of less specialized (and maybe completely obsolete) reasons.

Humans require both physical and psychological care. People spending time at the park, in the sunlight and fresh air, engaging in social activities, might be part of the System's programming on how to provide an environment for optimal care. The people may now live in completely self-contained pods, so they have no need whatsoever for going to the park (and are probably completely unaware of the move), but the System still brings them to the park because there is some residual operating parameter which says a human should be in the park for X hours a day for optimal health. The reasons for the park might be completely gone, but the instruction suggesting time in the park is beneficial is still in the code. These kinds of instructions can get quite perverse over time - if nobody keeps a close enough eye on the system and bothers to correct such things.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ The system moving people around based on old assumptions is exactly what seems to be going on in Wall-E — see for example the swimming pool everyone hangs out by but are apparently unaware of. $\endgroup$
    – mattdm
    Commented Nov 19, 2014 at 0:13

It could just be a result of efficiency.

Is it more efficient to stockpile food/nutrient shots in one location and have every person's cube drive by it occasionally or would it be more efficient to deliver everything to every person?

Currently, we have a combination. People go to the main stockpile (stores) and pick up what they need for their own personal stockpile (food at home).

Since it seems each person doesn't have the space for a personal stockpile. (And maybe eating food is just a simulation now - not even really happening) it would make sense to move each person to whatever they want/require rather than delivering medical supplies or food or whatever to each person.

This also makes an optimization of space, ideal for a huge population.


If the machinery is still in place, perhaps idle, it would probably do nothing. A few possibilities enter my mind, however, that might be reasonable explanations for why the robotics may move the units around.

  1. Software glitch that starts periodically moving the contained units around.
  2. Some automated system that cycles the units around to empty receptacles to clean any input/output pipes/ducts. (Water, ventilation, food, sewage, etc.)
  3. What if a person dies, or gets sick? Might need to move their unit to a medical area.
  4. They may still need to meet up for one reason or another, so there's always that. Some people may never become all that unwilling to move.

It's possible the reason is no longer widely known, such as how the space shuttle is related to the size of a horse's rear end, or why the newlywed cuts the ends off of the roast, or why we vote on Tuesdays. They move around because they've always moved around, and people who question the status quo are treated like they're crazy. Why take the risk?

Another reason might be environmental. It would probably take quite a harsh change in environment to force such a social species inside. Perhaps they need to periodically move to the shade to keep from overheating, or to stay out of shade to maintain solar power. They could be avoiding hazards like predators, deadly radiation, lava, or acid rain.

The reason could also be political. The powers that be need to move the people around to keep them from forming associations that could lead to an uprising. Perhaps the rulers don't even want people to remember they used to be able to own a piece of land. They don't want them to think of a geographical area as their own. Perhaps it was originally designed as the solution to white flight or gerrymandering.

Perhaps the system is designed such that one person can't move without everyone moving. One person moving for legitimate reasons would affect everyone on the same rail.


Imagining a pod that provides a human being with every need, we have to account for things like:

  • lighting that can simulate sunlight
  • immersive entertainment
  • human companionship
  • exercise (via electrical stimulation of the muscles)
  • feeding/hydration
  • waste management
  • medical monitoring
  • growth

If we could truly immerse people in a virtual world, the rest is actually trivial with today's technology. You could (virtually) eat steak and lobster three times a day, but your feeding tube would still dispense the same nutrient rich gruel. No one would ever have to physically meet up with another person. Even the emergency situations mentioned elsewhere probably wouldn't lead to much movement, as it would be easier to simulate your husband after he dies of a heart attack than to get his pod to an emergency room in time. Second and subsequent generations wouldn't even question logical impossibilities such as why dad lived to 160 years old. Procreation could even happen over long distances via tubing and robotic assistance. Ew.

The hard part to imagine is the first generation of humans volunteering to spend their lives in this system, but I leave that bit to you.

One reason that you could have to regularly move whole populations is if you set this far enough in the future. The Earth is slowly loosing its moon, and as it drifts farther and farther away, its stabilizing effect on Earth's axial tilt diminishes. This will lead to greater seasonal variance, perhaps to a degree that solar powered pods can not function in Winter. The mechanical systems could simply hibernate during these times, but humans can't, so to save them there would be mass migrations twice a year.

Unfortunately, I don't know why you want them moving, but this is a reason why everyone would have to move rather than just a reason that pods would need to be able to move.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .