I have a plot bunny lingering in my head about a rag-tag band of defective cyborgs facing off against a god-like supercomputer. I've outlined a great deal but I'm frequently finding that it's difficult to come up with clever ways that the group wins against the antagonist because... how does one defeat something that's all-knowing and god-like?

(In this case, the supercomputer was originally created to do everything it can to increase the profit margin of a certain company, so it's specialized in things like game theory and anticipating people's motives and actions, and it has since become out-of-control, power-hungry, and unsympathetic to the human (and cyborg) condition.)

I am having trouble coming up with any weakness for the antagonist that doesn't seem like a cop out. I'm not all-knowing or god-like (surprise), plus I'm not a computer scientist and research is only getting me so far.

How do I go about developing my plot ideas, despite my lack of computer science background, without breaking believability for the reader or forcing some unsatisfying deus ex machina ending?

Plot ideas or prompts are fine, encouraged even, but what are the tools or skills required to get past this blockage?

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    Watch some Star Trek. Kirk in particular specializes in talking computers into blowing themselves up by catching them in logical paradoxes. Jul 30, 2016 at 16:34
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    I'm sorry, but questions asking for suggestions aren't a good fit with the Q&A format of this site. Have placed this on hold. Please view our site tour for more information on how this site works. Jul 31, 2016 at 1:39
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    I've submitted an edit suggestion to try and bring this question back on topic without really changing it too much. Personally, I really enjoy questions like this and feel that a good answer to such a question can be an indirect learning experience for writers. Jul 31, 2016 at 12:55
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    this type of questions should be asked on Worldbuilding SE, take the tour here. Aug 3, 2016 at 11:04
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    Possible duplicate of The protagonist can't defeat the antagonist without the antagonist being stupid
    – user16226
    Mar 22, 2018 at 15:33

3 Answers 3


It sounds like you are doing what I do sometimes - focusing on the finding a weakness in the defences of the antagonist rather than asking where the protagonist is in any way better or different.

Greek Tragedy might be of help here. They had a concept called Hamartia - a fatal flaw leading to the downfall of a tragic hero or heroine. Which sounds like what you are looking for. Often this flaw was because of rather than in spite of the strength.

In your case, the computer is unfeeling towards humanity and therefore lacks empathy. As long as the human units act in their own best interests, the AI wins. But, what if the humans and cyborgs act against their interests, or act randomly, or are utterly illogical?

What if the protagonists act from the emotions that the computer does not understand? Surely then it would be at the least surprised.

At heart, your story sounds like an exploration of the human condition, albeit in a really interesting sci-fi that I would love to read. Here your cyborg gang's best attribute is that they do have empathy, they do feel pain and they are not always logical.

Additionally, the AI is designed to manage the odds and minimise risk. The emotional human types would, on the other hand, be willing to gamble on unpredictable outcomes. They might be willing to try hopeless, million-to-one, shots.

Could, for example, this lead to an act of self-sacrifice that brings a faction, unexpectedly (for the cynical god-like AI) to side with the protagonists? Does it inspire self-sacrifice in others? Does the AI have any defense against such actions?

Can the protagonists randomise things so that neither side has any idea what will happen? Or at the very least leave the outcome somewhat open to chance?

The AI is built around understanding gain but it would have a limited understanding of the human ability to willingly lose, give up in the face of apparent victory, or stubborn refusal to take a path of apparent gain.

In fact, there was a Star Trek episode where Data won a game by refusing to take any path of advancement until his opponent rage quit. He points out "I did not win, he quit".

Could the emotional humans provoke an emotional act of frustration in the AI?

Could the cyborgs create so much chaos that the AI has to devote increasing amounts of runtime to calculating what will happen whereas the human protagonists simply go with the flow and hope for the best? Could they, perhaps, do this so much that the AI is locked up with calculations and no longer paying attention somewhere?

There is lots you could do with this, I think. I hope I have given you a few ideas.

TL;DR: The "skills" required here are simply the ability to think in new ways about the differences between the protagonist and the antagonist and make that the "battlefield". Especially, any area where a character's strength might also be a weakness.

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    Thanks so much for these suggestions--this gives me several ideas to tinker with. I especially like the idea of highlighting the fact that the cyborgs, while still part-human, can make unpredictable, illogical decisions that the AI may not anticipate. Chaos and self-sacrifice work well here too. Appreciate it!
    – shannana
    Jul 30, 2016 at 22:26
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    "Chance" is the enemy of all things Scientific...and a great plot device too. In "computed speak" a random number has no answer for a random event...so I would approach this by setting a scene like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Predator...where he is clearly outclassed nd outgunned and is literally dragging himself through the mud to find a nice place to die. Jul 31, 2016 at 3:03
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    Since the Predator uses "heat signatures" to see he cannot see "our hero" in order to make the kill...thus creating a "discovery moment" for protagonist and viewer alike. That doesn't mean the fight is over. Hopefully it means that's where your good writing begins. Jul 31, 2016 at 3:05
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    Self sacrifice, very Ender's Game. The enemy does not consider something a threat because using the weapon would kill the operator. I like it. Makes for good setting and character development
    – Andrey
    Mar 22, 2018 at 13:41

I've struggled with this too. 'Perfect' characters aren't as enthralling to read about or to write, and they're much more difficult to connect with. Here's some advice based on what I've found works well for me!

My Psychology teacher once gave a lecture about the relationships between a person's good and bad traits. A lot of writers approach building a character with a mindset that a character's flaws can be selected at random, but the truth is that this isn't logical. A character's greatest weaknesses will stem from their greatest strengths. For example, a character who is extremely determined to succeed will likely also be very stubborn. In that, the character could possibly refuse to accept advice from others, even when that advice is vital to their success. Stubborn characters may also be more likely to want to complete their goal without help from others, which could lead the character to shutting out their friends and family, stretching themselves too thin, or becoming self-involved or overly confident.

Of course, that's just a hypothetical example, but approaching your character with the same logic is bound to create a protagonist with more depth!

Hope this helps! Best of luck.


You have a god-like all-knowing supercomputer. Probably a quantum one or better i guess. The key points you need to focus to get a solution i believe are:

Your villain is not perfect versus anything. Treat this as an axiom - somehow it will be 'defeated' by the protagonists.

You need to define the reason of opposition between the cyborgs and the super computer. Victory is not always a result of 'combat'. Such a super computer may agree to a diplomatic win-win solution, if the reason of opposition permits.

You need to define the 'field' of opposition. For example the computer may reside to a heavily fortified installation, obviously autonomous from any aspect including ... energy. Because anything needs 'food!' So, what happens if the protagonists sabotage energy reserves and destroy solar panels and whatever energy alternatives exist? Villain remains a god-like computer ... but shut down.

You need to define the 'rules of combat'. This are what actual means each side has to alter the actions of the other side at any magnitude. It is likely the protagonists have very few weak options while the computer has lots and powerful. What if the protagonists use their opponent strength against him at the right time at the right place?

Example: During a struggle looking as a diversion one of the cyborgs, the 'acrobat', jumps in to the 'main area', not shielded and with her armor removed or replaced with ... compressed paper(!). The supercomputer understands the diversion and 'sniffs' this acrobat cyborg action as the main attack, and shoots the cyborg with one of his defense options e.g. a never-miss guardian cyborg with a weapon. The supercomputer make no mistakes, recognizes the real attack and fires to repel it. The shot however goes through the protagonist, kill him, and hit something vital (CPU core? some emergency fuel pack?). Because the protagonist remove all her protection and sacrifice herself - something the supercomputer had not foreseen. Calculations where stop at the point where the cyborg took and absorb the shot - not penetrate through.

The 'means of combat' may give you a nice set of options. A computer virus is smart but trivial example.

Another point is the 'existence' of the villain. How it exists and manifests? At the 'field of combat' i used the installation example. Does it exists at one or at multiple places? Does he 'moves' with some means or he is bounded? If it exists at multiple places it becomes tragically difficult. Still options can be found - what if the protagonists through some means convince different 'places' of existence that are ... actually different 'existences'? They will succeed divided the 'personality' of the villain, effectively raise multi-personality issues and ... civil war!

Finally, the background is a good point and may give you options. This super computer was build for a purpose back then. But now that purpose is long bypassed. The creator(s) may had been prepared some safety options that the protagonists need to find and exploit.

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