Hyperrhiz 21

This Year, I’m Learning to Love My Robot Overlords, and Maybe You Should Too

Aubrey Bauer
University of California, Los Angeles

Citation: Bauer, Aubrey. “This Year, I’m Learning to Love My Robot Overlords, and Maybe You Should Too.” Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, no. 21, 2019. doi:10.20415/hyp/021.e04

Abstract: The material setting for The Matrix (1999) is relegated to the background in its own plot, but also in the critical attention that has followed. The mechanical antagonists entomb our heroes as well as the human race in an infrastructure not unlike that of the early twenty-first century: seemingly ubiquitous, in some ways necessary, and complicated beyond comprehension. A consideration of political, rather than mere spiritual transcendence in such a context could entail concession, or even appreciation for our new nature.

Keywords: social media, GIF, media studies, student work, performance, technology, race.

This Year, I’m Learning to Love My Robot Overlords, and Maybe You Should Too

I like to think
   (it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.
——Richard Brautigan, 1967

We are introduced to a few of The Matrix’s more violent mechanical antagonists in a moment of sublime quiet: all power in a human-filled hovercraft must be shut down to avoid detection. Eye contact, however, doesn’t register (Figure 2). The common language between these entities and our biological heroes is decidedly digital—the plot unfolds primarily within the eponymous simulation—while the physical world serves as a continual space of alienation, violence, and paralysis. Cowering in the ruins of past peoples’ utilities, they watch the Sentinels elegantly curl through air like squid of the old earth.

The growth of digital technologies and economies has relied on the largely unconscious—or, at least, largely unnoticed—integration of tubes, cables, poles, and stations into the built environment. We could imagine that just as the architecture of the internet escapes most consumers’ notice and concern, the construction of the post-human world happened so gradually and so completely that distinctions between landscape and infrastructure dissolved completely. Infrastructure becomes Nature. Like the public imagines the “physical” internet, the rendering of the tunnels is ornate but abstract, in the background, and all encompassing (Figure 3).

The imaging of the machine entities in The Matrix is spectacular: they are languid, ordered, and intelligent. Like no robot we’ve seen. Set against a fully saturated infrastructural environment, the machines fill out an idyllic state of nature, but more as gods than mindless beasts.

In this world, humans are a well-managed crop. Their free movement in the machines’ infrastructure is at times considered a threat—a vestige of the war between humans and machines—but is procedurally no issue. When Neo wakes, the Docbot can’t be bothered. It’s known that the human body cannot survive the infrastructural environment without rehabilitation. Mere sentience is no challenge.

But why the desire to evacuate? The philosophical nuances of Cypher’s choice are still only limited to a question of (white male) individual privilege and autonomy. Could we not demand that our revolutions account for the incredible infrastructures, event those produced by flawed histories? Could they simply be too big to fail? Neo’s fate to liberate humanity relies on his ability to manipulate the code of the matrix, but what of the housing of the matrix? A bit more difficult to bend at will.

If these beings exhibit what the western tradition understands as anthro-specific qualities—a mastery over nature—the material and ontological continuity between the machines and the built environment transforms our understanding of the cyborg: its organic qualities are systemic rather than physical. No longer organism, no longer infrastructure, and never subject to control. Perhaps the material world of mechanical entities, if a transcendent revolution is out of the question, demands a transcendent habituation.


  1. Richard Brautigan, All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace (San Francisco: Communication Company, 1967).
  2. Nicole Starosielski, The Undersea Network (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015).
  3. Lisa Nakamura, “Race in the Construct, or the Construction of Race: New Media and Old Identities in ‘The Matrix’,” in Maria Fernandez et al., Domain Errors!: Cyberfeminist Practices (New York: Autonomedia, 2002).
  4. Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” Socialist Review 80 (1985).

GIFs Linked

Figure 1. Growth and management of human fetuses by Harvesters, https://media.giphy.com/media/3YKGw4p6fAQ9Jhhf0i/giphy.gif

Figure 2. Sentinels patrolling the tunnels. https://media.giphy.com/media/1d5KDySAVu6lJiB3fg/giphy.gif

Figure 3. Sentinels seeking out the Nebuchadnezzar in the tunnels, https://media.giphy.com/media/1ypm758N3dr329T2X0/giphy.gif

Figure 4. A Docbot evacuates Neo from his pod following his redpilling and awakening, https://media.giphy.com/media/9VnOFtTXRKCe97iLnS/giphy.gif

Figure 5. Movement and aestheticization of hardware in the pods and Sentinel appendages, https://media.giphy.com/media/MVRo1dQ0nhpcyf5SfN/giphy.gif