I, Robot

I, Robot
By Isaac Asimov

While acknowledging the contributions of Karel Čapek, whose R.U.R. introduced us to the word “robot,” and Earl and Otto (Eando) Binder whose 1939 short story “I, Robot” provided inspiration as well as a title (chosen by Asimov’s publisher, much to Asimov’s chagrin), I, Robot is the seminal work on robotics in science fiction.

A collection of linked short stories (or “fix-up”) first published throughout the 1940s, I, Robot spins a remarkably rich and coherent story of the evolution of robots from speechless domestic pets to world-governing AIs all out of the now famous Three Laws of Robotics. With the recurring characters of robopsychologist Dr. Susan Calvin and the Charters and Caldicott team of troubleshooters Powell and Donovan to provide a human baseline, we can chart the progression of the positronic brain from infancy to adulthood, just as humans regress into self-important helplessness.

The Machines of the final story are best able to understand the various psychohistorical forces (to use the language of Hari Seldon) that shape the rise and fall of civilizations. This isn’t the same as saying they’re in the driver’s seat, but humankind has clearly been surpassed. While early stories play with the notion of individual robots becoming aware of their manifest superiority, it isn’t until the finale that they achieve class consciousness.

I, Robot is one of the four or five most influential works of science fiction ever, and it’s still a great read. But, a bit sadly, it leaves one feeling nostalgia for a time when we could still believe in AI being so benign, and before the window for the Machines saving us had closed.

13 thoughts on “I, Robot

  1. Good stuff! I enjoyed these immensely when I first read them and really enjoyed them when I read them again later in life. Asimov was a master of the short story.
    I still have never understood why the Asimov Estate let that horrible movie use the title….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The movie was awful. This is a great book. I remember reading it when I was a kid and loving it and I was surprised at how well it held up. He really links the stories together well and when you think how the whole thing is just a riff on the Three Laws and how they play out as the robots evolve it’s even more impressive.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Binder (the brothers Binder) wrote a story called I, Robot that was published in 1939 and subsequently became part of a series of stories about a robot named Adam Link.

        Asimov wrote a bunch of unrelated robot stories that were published in the 1940s and that he collected as I, Robot. He originally wanted to call the book Mind and Iron but his publisher changed the title to I, Robot over Asimov’s objections. There’s no other connection between the two books, aside from them both dealing with robots.

        As Asimov put it, “My book is now the more famous, but Otto’s story was there first.”

        Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s