I have never read any of Asimov’s work prior to reading I, Robot. But now I have collected Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation, as well as The Bicentennial Man and I’m slowly collecting the rest of his robot novels, but only in copies I like so it’s a slow process. Essentially, what I’m trying to say is that I, Robot was incredible.
Each story was something beautiful on its own, but what I really loved was the framing narrative. Each story came about as part of an interview with Susan Calvin, the robopsychologist who was recounting a history of trying to perfect robotics. With her calculating, scientific eye the stories became something wondrous and life altering, not just simple tales of robots. Basically, my outlook on robots has been completely changed.
My two favourite stories were ‘Robbie’ and ‘Reason’ and I’m about to tell you why so buckle up kids. ‘Robbie’ is the story of a young girl who becomes too attached to her robot playmate Robbie resulting in her parents taking Robbie away and trying to distract her. This doesn’t work, obviously, and it ends with her father pulling a huge stunt to reunite them and prove to the overbearing mother that Robbie is actually great at protecting her daughter due to the three laws of robotics. This story got me because I suppose it’s what some would call “soft science fiction” in that it takes a social view rather than a scientific one. It also looks at the effects of robots in the home on young
children, much like Channel 4’s Humans which is one of my favourite shows of all time. I quite like soft science fiction, it’s all well and good to look at the facts, but what use are facts if they don’t have some sort of repercussion on the humans studying them. The soft SF angle was such a good way to start off the collection and it really got me pumped to read the rest.
‘Reason’ was f*cking brilliant. I’m not sorry for being rude, it altered my entire life view. No one really warned me that Asimov was going to have such an impact. In ‘Reason’ Cutie the robot doesn’t believe that the humans could possibly have made them, as they’re clearly the superior species. Cutie then creates a Robot Cult, leading all the other robots in their religious beliefs and essentially keep the humans from doing anything. But the thing is, their religious beliefs don’t interfere with their programming, they still do their jobs perfectly and it’s not really hurting anyone. So basically, everyone’s like “f*ck it” and just leaves them to it. Because robots are tools. And if they function then nothing’s wrong. But also why would religion ever get in the way of a good job being done. There’s so many layers to this story, I love it. I love this whole book and mostly I love it because of it’s approach to robots, primarily through the three laws of robotics.
The Three Laws of Robotics are genius.
- A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey the orders given 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.
Seems foolproof, right? Haha, hell no, the entire collection is basically the rules hindering what robots can do and making them difficult to work with, and it gets to the point where you’re wondering, why bother? There is a story where the first law is only slightly tweaked to prevent the robots constantly stopping humans doing necessary, dangerous work. And all hell breaks loose. Essentially, Asimov isn’t saying robots are the problem, he’s saying humans are responsible for anything and everything their tools do. And this is still something that’s argued today, for those of you who watched the most recent Doctor Who episode Smile it is very similar to Asimov’s robots, basically any problem in the robot, is a problem caused by something beyond the robot’s control (The ending undermines this a bit, but my complaints about Doctor Who really should be a whole separate post).