The Ultron Complex [Podcast]

Cyberculture, cyberpunk and Sci-Fi have always been rich grounds for us to explore and imagine a different life, and the different things in it. Perhaps only changing tiny aspects of our current reality, or creating whole new societies, worlds and galaxies; they speak volumes about how we envision the future and our place in it. There’s importance in the power of our imagination, and we are already living in a world where almost anything is an invention or scientific discovery away. Would we call it a coincidence the iPad appeared in Star Trek and was subsequently invented? Or on some level did it become reality because we imagined it. If so, we might need to imagine the hoverboard a bit harder because so far our Back to the Future II prediction is way off.

Robots have had their role in this from the very beginning, from Rossum’s Universal Robots, to Metropolis, Bladerunner and Wall-E, we have had a vast imagination on the place robots will have in our future lives. We have been paranoid of advancing technology ‘taking over control’ (Edwards 2015). In most all depictions, robots are something we fear and despise. They become the necessary evil humans must defeat or destroy in order to regain their humanity and power.

For this series of podcasts, I am going to draw on key concepts I uncovered in my research of our fear of robots, and apply them to specific case studies of robots in films. For this research topic this semester, I wanted to un-demonise the way we think of robots in our future. The prevailing argument is that robots will overthrow us, be our ultimate slaves, or become so similar to the human existence, humans might as well not exist anymore. There is this negative connotation with robots that is impossible to shake. To lessen fear of something, in my opinion, helps to learn more about it, and why we are afraid.

Each robot I investigate will be the exemplar for that particular topic of each podcast, in how it succeeds or fails. As either a cautionary tale, or perhaps to argue their point of view. Maybe they didn’t mean to destroy the earth, maybe it was just a miscommunication…

My first topic, or reason why we fear robots, Is the Creation adopting and developing the flaws of human kind, like man’s hubris. The Frankenstein Complex, it is typically known as, that existed well before any robot (McCauley 2007). Humans have always grown to fear what they can create, a failure to see lines we shouldn’t cross that goes against ethics, morality and humanity. It is because the Frankenstein Complex existed before robots we can see it happening with androids so easily. From the Promethean flame, of man receiving fire or technology and evolving, creating, and destroying beyond reproach.

My Case Study for the Frankenstein Complex, is Ultron. From the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Tony Stark sought to immobilise his Iron Man Robot army under a new, autonomous peace-keeping initiative. Peace In Our Time. Was the goal he envisioned. Wasn’t long until things went south from there. By giving Ultron consciousness, he reached his own definition of what peace in its time would mean, and how to achieve that.

Tony Stark has more than enough hubris for the world and Asgard to share twice-over, and through his intentions were well meaning, and his desire to create was never sinister, Ultron still took on Stark’s worst qualities and warped his programmed agenda to fit his own beliefs.

Ultron does match closely to Mary Shelley’s monster; in a modern, and superhero villain reimagination. Ultron blamed his maker and sought to destroy him in an epic battle, the fight of humanity against a monster.  

Though they give Ultron some comedic qualities, he is the villain of the story, not Tony’s Hubris. He is given the typical Hollywood workover to be seen the evil robot, from the glowing red eyes, supersized, metallic, inhuman body and creepy sinister, monotoned voice. It is all immediate to our assumption of evil. Where societies like Japan applaud and enjoy robots in their lives as ‘friends’ almost, other cultures are more ambivalent and wary, wanting them as utilitarian units rather than friends (Kelleher, 2007). So I don’t think there is just a coincidence with the depiction of Ultron and his relation to the Frankenstein Complex. We want to be revolted by him, make him as inhuman as possible so we know to hate him.  

What is the most frightening aspect of the Ultron robot, is that he is autonomous in every way. Through the internet he flies with his AI, he can download and upload himself into any of his robot minions, and destroying him isn’t anywhere as easy as pulling the plug. The Avengers could not stop him, until obviously they did, but Ultron put up a good fight. What is interesting to comment on, is that the final blow to Ultron wasn’t at the hand of man, but Vision, another robot. The second robot make in Stark’s image, but with the better side of qualities. Is there some correlation to one creation destroying the other, less perfect creation?

We fear the creations existing outside of our control, because that is when it is a threat, and how can we stop it? The Ultron Complex is, however, that his programming backfired because of the flaws in his creator. We know we are heading into a world with more robots being used in new areas. Do more robots, with more sophisticated technology mean we will one day see Ultron become a reality, in some form or another? It is true, some fictional creations have become real, but I am still waiting for my real hoverboard and not this podiumless segway thing we currently have.

In my opinion, Ultron is a warning, not a foreshadow of robots backfiring on us. It’s not a warning about robots, but of us misusing the technology and our reason behind it. Tony Stark wanted peace on earth, but he still built an army to do so.



McCauley, L 2015 ‘The Frankenstein Complex and Asimov’s Three Laws’


Edwards, P 2015 ‘Ultron’s Roots: We’ve Been Worried About Robot Uprising for 200 Years’


Kelleher, K 2007 ‘iRobot and the Frankenstein Complex’