|First Edition Cover|
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey 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.
In I, Robot, Asimov chronicles the development of the robot through a series of interlinked stories: from its primitive origins in the present to the ultimate perfection in the not-so-distant future - a future in which humanity itself may be rendered obsolete. Here are stories of robots gone mad, of mind-read robots, and robots with a sense of humor. Of robot politicians, and robots who secretly run the world.
I, Robot was first published in 1950, and it shows. These stories were written during the Atomic Age, when the atomic bomb and nuclear power plants were all the rage. The eventual shortage of energy sources wasn't even a problem, but nuclear power would be the solution. In fact, it would be the solution to every problem. We only needed more time, more knowledge about the atom. We are talking about a time when the URSS was a reality, and a scary one for us, capitalist countries. The stories, then, are a bit dated. Asimov is said to have mixed science fact and science fiction - but older science facts are more similar to fiction nowadays. The language is also a potential barrier to the modern reader. It isn't hard or difficult as the language usually employed in classics is perceived to be, but the slang is so retro it induces a sort of disrespect for the story. However, if you can read past these obstacles, the content of the stories is really good.
The link between the nine short stories, Dr. Susan Calvin, is a robopsychologist and a person of great power inside US Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc, the main manufacturer of robots - actually the only manufacturer of positronic robots, which are the only ones that are advanced enough. But Susan Calvin is something else - she's the only woman working for this corporation. And she is intelligent, cold and emotionally distant. She prefers robots to humans, as evidenced by this exchange of opinions:
"Are robots so different from men?" She replies, "Worlds different. Robots are essentially decent."
Although she might be a strange main character (and I'm still debating whether I'm okay with this portrayal of science women as cold, heartless and asexual entities), I rather liked her, and liked her role as link and narrator of this short story collection. I also understand her personality is part of what makes her connect so well with robots.
I, Robot is not so much a science fiction short story collection as a philosophical collection of intellectual exercises. Examining whether a sentient robot could have the same civil rights as a human is an interesting exercise, and Asimov did it while telling a riveting story. I couldn't stop thinking this would be a great book to teach concepts such as free-will, conscience, individuality and moral code in a Philosophy class. How awesome is that? And how much more awesome is that compared to many of the sci-fi stories published around the same time? That is what makes Asimov stories classics.
Robots aren't such a strange concept nowadays and, although they differ greatly in shape and conscience from the ones imagined by Asimov, the tendency in robotics is towards sentient machines - or rather, sentient-like machines. In addition, Asimov's robots have a built-in anti-Matrix safeguard: the three laws of robotics, which are three logical postulates to try to avoid a robot revolution. The nine stories revolve around a situation in conflict with one or more laws, an explanation of the conflict and a possible solution. At the same time, they advance this futuristic world history, since they are Susan Calvin's reflections on the past of robotics. And they never fail to entertain.