The second book from Isaac Asimov on this list actually takes place in the same fictional universe as the first one, albeit thousands of years previous. Years before Hari Seldon starts preparing the Foundation, I, Robot shows us a time in which mankind is taking its first baby steps out into the universe with the help of intelligent robots. While these robots are able to perform tasks that no human would possibly be able to do, they also start to exhibit some unexpected behavioral and psychological tendencies that threaten to derail the use of robots altogether.
I, Robot Summary: Told primarily through the perspective of robopsychologist Dr. Susan Calvin, the book is made up of 9 separate short stories that detail the early history of robotics and the different stages of robot development. As the robots become progressively more intelligent and sophisticated, the unique peculiarities of their psychology (informed primarily by Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics) take on many different forms that their human creators are forced to deal with. The majority of these incidents occur as a result of a conflict between the laws that the robots are taught to obey and the ways in which their actions affect the humans that work with them.
I, Robot Review: While most depictions of robots in fiction up to that time had been of the “Frankenstein Complex” variety (in which a robot turns against its master), Asimov’s Robot stories offer a much more complex vision of the interactions between men and thinking machines. Because of the three laws of robotics that are programmed into every intelligent robot, complex moral ambiguities and situations begin to arise as humans are forced to ask more and more of their mechanical creations. While some of the stories do tap into our traditional fears of robots (including one in which a politician is accused of being a robot or another one in which a robot can read minds), the reasons for the robot’s dysfunction is never seen as malicious or aggressive – merely the product of a mind that is incapable of thinking outsides its pre-set parameters.
Besides creating a blueprint for all future science fiction writers (and some actual scientists) to use when dealing with robots, Asimov also gives the reader 9 effortlessly captivating detective stories in which Dr. Calvin (or the team of Powell and Donovan) are forced to play Sherlock Holmes in order to deduce the reason for a particular robot’s erratic behavior. Told with Asimov’s usual biting wit and humor, I, Robot presents a compelling (and entertaining) argument for the notion that robots are often just a morally conflicted and complex as the humans that create them.
I, Robot Movie: The recent film adaption (in name only) of I, Robot, starring Will Smith, really has absolutely nothing to do with the book it stole it’s name from. The movie uses the basic premise of man’s growing wariness and suspicion of robots and turns it into a dull, formulaic action flick with the robots as the bad guys and Smith as the hero. Any subtlety or analysis of the robot psyche is discarded in favor of silly car chases as simple, moralistic sermonizing. It’s so bad I won’t even link to it below.
The Three Laws of Robotics:
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.