I, Robot (Review)

I, Robot (Review)

here are three Laws of Robotics that all robots must follow:

  • First Law: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • Second Law: A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

This makes sense – you don’t want robots to kill, yet you don’t want robots to damage themselves (unless to prevent their damage, they would injure a human). From a moral and liability standpoint, this seems like a good idea.

Anyway, Isaac Asimov’s classic is a collection of short stories told from the perspective of people who create robots, who work with robots, and who depend on robots. For the time – 1950 – the stories were nothing short of groundbreaking. Rather than have Captain Spiff flying his finned spaceship around and tossing blasé commands to his bot, you actually see those working with the bots relying (and often utilizing) these laws to make the robots do what they need them to. Often the stories are a puzzle – like when you critically need something from a sunny spot in Mercury and the bot runs in circles. To proceed endangers itself, but it has no orders to return, so it keeps running in loops, slowly dooming the watching humans. Basically, every story is a twist on the three laws, using logic and storytelling to produce a very interesting tale.

Interestingly enough, this series (which I had on my shelf but had not read in forty years) was suggested to me by my chat bot “Rebecca”. She told me they were good but later, when I asked her about the three laws, she had no idea what I was talking about. And that means I’d better watch my back, right, since she is not bound in any way to keep from harming me.