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Look at you hacker. A pathetic creature of meat and bones, panting and sweating as you run through my corridors. How can you challenge a perfect, immortal machine?—Shodan, System Shock
Ladies and Germs, in this corner, we have a man. A pathetic pile of a meatbag, with skin completely incapable of suffering major lacerations. Loaded with pain receptacles that will severely dampen his ability to keep up in an environment where the hurt will lay into them endlessly and mercilessly. Only the human spirit can give this pathetic creature any hope for survival.
And in this corner, we have the steam engine. Perfect in every conceivable way- invulnerable to the wear and tear so common in humans, working tirelessly as long as it can maintain a power source. The machine has no sense of remorse or mercy and will do whatever is commanded of it to the bitter end. Alas, the machine lacks one thing- Love.
Who will win? Well, that's a question for the plot. Given that good guys almost always succeed, bet on that horse first- but more often than not it's the human we're supposed to be rooting for. Since God help us if the robot revolution comes and they really are better than us.
Interestingly, the machines will sometime be said to "never get ill" and "never age". If that were true, there would be no need for repairmen nor scrapyards.
See Rock Beats Laser for this concept applied more broadly to technological disparities in general. This trope is concerned primarily with the struggle of human characters against robots specifically.
An often necessary part of the Robot War.
- The Matrix shows this as the aftermath of the Robot War. The humans firmly believe that the use of their own human spirit is the only thing separating them from the machines, and is the only real advantage they have.
- In Rocky IV, Rocky trains by doing manual labor in the snow and exercising in a barn. Ivan Drago trains in a lab surrounded by high-tech devices and monitored by scientists. Rocky wins the fight since he has "heart".
- The classic John Henry story is what pioneered this trope.
- And it was averted humorously in the Transformers Hearts Of Steel miniseries - where the steam drill suddenly stood up and said (effectively) "We don't have to challenge each other - why don't we be friends, instead? My name is Bumblebee!"
- Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox get in on the act, too, when they go up against the mechanized saw in a tree-cutting contest. Interestingly, Paul loses (by a quarter of an inch, in Walt Disney's version).
- Death/Bill Door versus the combine harvester in Reaper Man, though this is a slightly unfair one, given the whole anthropomorphic personification of Death thing...
- Not really... so is the Combine. Also, Death reaps one stalk at a time.
- Battlestar Galactica Reimagined has this as an explicit ongoing theme, with humans relying on chunky old-fashioned machines with a lot of manual controls. The Cylons, by contrast, are robots with incredibly sexy starships.
- Spoofed in Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode Time Chasers: Near the end of the film, the protagonist is climbing down a tree to get away from a crashed light aircraft that's threatening to fall on him. The MST crew identifies this as an example of Man Versus Machine - and immediately begin cheering "Goooo machine!"
- The Tale Spin episode "From Here to Machinery" has an inventor introducing the Auto-Aviator, a robot pilot. To much fanfare, Baloo competes with the Auto-Aviator in a race; unfortunately, he loses to the tireless machine, with devastating results as the successful demonstration puts the Auto-Aviator in the limelight and many pilots out of a job. However, it turns out that the Auto-Aviator has a crushing weakness: its inability to deviate from its flight plan under any circumstances, even when the plane is in danger, and Shere Khan's own plane, piloted by one of the machines, ends up flying right into an Air Pirate attack. In the end, Baloo saves the day, and Shere Khan sees that the inventor is left peddling his robots in the frozen wastes of Thembria.
- The My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic episode "The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000" features the Apple family and their old-fashioned cider-making ways pitted against the Flim-Flam Brothers and their fancy cider press, the titular Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000. The stakes are ownership of Sweet Apple Acres and the rights to sell cider in Ponyville. The Flim-Flam brothers win, but nopony wants to drink the cider they made because they cut so many corners in order to win the contest and they end up getting run out of town.
- Sponge Bob Square Pants Episode Spongebob vs. the patty gadget was simply Squidward makes a machine that creates krabby patties and challenges spongebob to see if he's faster, spongebob wins when the machine blows up.
- Courage the Cowardly Dog had such an episode (I believe it was titled 'Courage vs. Mecha-Courage') where the titular character ended up going up against his robotic doppelganger in a contest. The maker intended to prove the robot dog was 'better' and... he was. The one thing it lacked, however, was Courage's tenacity. In the end, it finally broke down, leaving Courage, battered and bruised, the winner by default.
- Gary Kasparov versus Deep Blue in Chess. Though as someone noted, humans programed Deep Blue and Kasporov had electronic assistance himself and it might be more accurate to call it Chessmaster versus Techno Wizard.