I, Robot was published on 1950/12/02. The film I, Robot, while enjoyable, has very little in common with its source material.
- 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 Laws. [P8]
Each of the stories expresses the problems with the laws. In one instance law one has to be adjusted. The reason is that humans are working in a risky environment, ‘a… gamma field’ [p114] – and so the robot rescues them from it. Its programming will not allow it to take the risk that the human might stay beyond the safe limit. So the law is adjusted to ‘No robot may harm a human being.’ [p114] This however presents a problem, as discussed later in the story. A robot could drop a weight on a human if it knew that ‘his strength and reaction speed would be sufficient to snatch the weight away…’ [p122] – it could then allow the weight to continue because now gravity is acting on the weight. The modified First Law allows [this]. P122.
In my opinion Asimov is at his best when writing short stories. Science fiction short stores of this era tended to focus on a what if type scenarios.
Asimov’s characters are not very well developed. This is irrelevant in the short form as it is the idea that is important. However in the novel form, like the Foundation series which I’ve also read, this cannot work. In a novel we need characters we can become invested in.
Given that this book is now 65 years old it sounds anachronistic at times. It is difficult to put into words but essentially the technology is futuristic but the people are not. One of the stories mentions the earth population – he was accurate for the time he wrote it but failed to predict just how many of us their would be in the 21st century.
If you like science fiction you should read this book. It is an important story in the history of the genera. I hope that those who are involved in robotics do read it. There will come a time when we need to have laws of robotics – not these ones though. That is not a slight against Asimov as it is the point of the story.
If you haven’t read this – read it – read it now.
…or you know when you’ve finished the book you’re currently on.
All quotes taken from the Panther Science Fiction edition: I,Robot 1968