We imagine them with skin of steel, glowing red eyes and quite possibly an Austrian accent. But is the rise of robots really a threat to mankind?
As drones zoom through Canberra's skies and driverless cars hit our roads, an engineer, an artist and a lawyer say the capital has fast become a testing ground for the pointy end of automation. And that opens up a new world of possibilities - and complications.
At the University of Canberra roboticist Damith Herath likened robots to "digital immigrants" - the latest scapegoat for our insecurities.
"A lot of automation has already happened, particularly in the industrial space," Dr Herath said.
"Now we're picking up the more difficult bits like speech and image recognition, but we still haven't reached the singularity [the creation of a conscious artificial intelligence] and I don't see that happening in our lifetime, if it can happen at all.
"What we are seeing is breakthroughs in is augmenting humans with robotics and seeing how humans and machines can work together. So the line is blurring. But we still need humans to drive that."
Lawyer Bruce Baer Arnold agrees "automation has already taken over the world", but stresses there are still huge commercial imperatives to remove humans even further as technology improves.
"These big companies can obfuscate more and more responsibility," Dr Baer Arnold said.
"That means job losses. And we can say robots will only steal the menial jobs, but some people like the menial jobs."
But researcher Elizabeth Jochum said that technology getting smarter did not mean humans necessarily had to.
"We're figuring out how to create interfaces now that you don't need a PHD in engineering to operate" she said.
"The whole 'robots coming for our jobs', this idea that it's inevitable they'll replace us really just gives a hall pass to the big corporations.
"We still need humans to write the algorithms, we still need human oversight. We only need to look at those recent Boeing plane crashes they think were caused by AI malfunctions to see why."
Joining the group in the lab, as if to underline the point, is Paul - a robot with a creative temperament built by international artist Patrick Tresset.
The law is always playing catch up, it happened with the steam engine too. But would an AI have human rights? We can't afford to wait 30 years again to decide.Dr Baer Arnold
Paul is "obsessed" with drawing, it's in his code to draw people, but it's Tresset's hand guiding his pen.
"I grew up fascinated by robotics [and by drawing]," Tresset said.
"I was a painter. Now I only draw through my robots. The programming is a lot of trial and error but I like the theatrical side of it too."
This month, Tresset set up Paul at the UC hospital, inviting visitors and patients to sit in the chair for a sketch as they waited.
"It was really heartwarming doing the installation there where people are vulnerable," he said.
Dr Jochum, who has a background in puppetry, said artists had always been at the forefront of technology, exploring its possibilities.
But, while Tresset confirmed his lawyers had determined that he - not Paul - remained the artist of his installations, Dr Baer Arnold said copyright was just one of the many thorny legal issues automation was now throwing up.
As a human rights jurisdiction set to pass through new laws declaring animals to be sentient, the ACT needed to get a head start on thinking through these problems - both ethically and legally, he said.
"The law is always playing catch up, it happened with the steam engine too. But would an AI have human rights? We can't afford to wait 30 years again to decide."
In a particularly stark warning for this reporter, media academic Caroline Fisher said automation was also likely to give rise to a new breed of "spokesbot". Acting on behalf of companies in lieu of real life spin doctors, they'd be available 24/7 and free from personal bias.
"But of course how much information they access for you would be subject to the generosity of their algorithm," she said.
In recent years, both Deloitte Access Economics and the CSIRO have hosed down fears about robots taking jobs, though experts have noted roles will likely shift to more complex digital tasks in the future.
UC will host a forum on the human cost of robotics on Thursday night at the Howling Moon in Braddon as part of its new UnCover series.