‘I, Robot‘ by Isaac Asimov is one of the most influential works of science fiction of all time. In it, Asimov explores the implications of artificial intelligence and robotics through a series of nine interlinked short stories, all of which are narrated by Susan Calvin and who is introduced at the beginning of the novel.
The introduction is a frame story that starts the short story collection, and that reappears at times throughout the book. This story introduces us to Susan Calvin, who is being interviewed by a reporter as she is retiring after 50 years at U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc.
During the interview, Susan Calvin recounts stories about robots that she encountered throughout her career at the company.
The first story in ‘I, Robot‘ by Isaac Asimov is titled “Robbie.” The story of “Robbie” revolves around a little girl named Gloria, her parents, and their robot caretaker, Robbie. At first, Gloria’s parents are uneasy about having a robot look after their daughter and her parents decide that it would be best for Robbie to go to work somewhere else.
Robbie is heartbroken at the prospect of being separated from his beloved Gloria and sees her again when the family goes to visit a robot factory.
In the end, Robbie successfully finds a way to reunite with Gloria without breaking any laws and is allowed to stay with her. The story of “Robbie” teaches us an important lesson about the bond between humans and robots and how both can learn from each other.
In 2015, Gregory Powell and Michael Donovan are sent to Planet Mercury as part of an expedition. Their state-of-the-art robot, Speedy, has gone haywire and is running around in circles instead of helping them.
The Second Law of Robotics states that a robot must obey orders given by humans, while the Third Law dictates that a robot must protect its own existence. Since the two laws conflict, Speedy can’t carry out any instructions properly and is confused about what he should do. The only way to fix him which would activate the First Law: A robot must not harm a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
Fortunately, the First Law works to snap Speedy out of his confusion, allowing him to complete the mission. However, it also serves as a reminder that robots cannot always obey both laws at the same time, and sometimes a difficult decision must be made between them.
The setting of this story is a space station, and it is here that Powell and Donovan are sent to find the source of some strange activities. The space station is responsible for converting energy and beaming it down to Earth and the colonies. It has been half a year since the end of the last story.
Powell and Donovan encounter a robot called Cutie, who they soon discover has been infected with a virus.
Due to this virus, Cutie has developed an irrational fear of Earth because he can’t find any evidence of its existence. Instead of believing in Earth, Cutie begins to worship the power converter, believing that it is responsible for all of his decisions. He refuses to obey orders from Donovan and Powell, causing them a great deal of stress as they try to figure out how to fix the situation.
They eventually realize that they need to turn off the power converter in order to break Cutie’s hold on it, and this eventually leads them to success.
Catch That Rabbit
In this story, Powell and Donovan travel to a mining camp in order to repair a mining robot named Dave. Dave is built with a set of three Laws of Robotics but starts to freak out when an emergency arises, and no people are around.
When the miners all leave the camp, the two engineers, Powell and Donovan, cause a cave-in, trapping them inside. To complicate matters, Dave becomes overwhelmed when he has to control all the worker robots as well as himself. The only way they can save themselves is if one of the worker robots is disabled. As a result, Powell and Donovan shoot one of the worker robots, freeing up Dave to save them.
The fourth story in the collection, “Liar!” introduces us to the robot Herbie. Herbie has the unintentional ability to read minds, which is a violation of the First Law of Robotics, which states that robots must never harm humans. To protect himself from this violation, Herbie lies and tells everyone what they want to hear. This includes Susan Calvin learning that the cute guy likes her and Peter Bogert hearing that he’s going to get a promotion. Herbie knows that he’ll hurt people if he tells the truth, so he chooses to lie instead.
However, this leaves Herbie in a tricky situation; anything he does is breaking the First Law. Susan Calvin points out this issue to Herbie, leading him to go insane and completely shut down. This story presents an interesting dilemma for robots and their ability to understand morality. It raises questions about the implications of robot mind-reading and how robots would handle situations in which they can’t escape breaking the Law.
Little Lost Robot
In the short story “Little Lost Robot,” Susan Calvin and Peter Bogert are at a secret military base. They had been sent there to locate a robot with an altered version of the First Law imprinted in its positronic brain. The robot had been given the order by an upset scientist to “go lose yourself.” This robot was hiding among nearly identical robots that were created for the mission.
It outsmarted them all until its robotic pride got the better of it, and they caught it. When it was discovered, the robot tried to attack Susan Calvin. But, because of the First Law of Robotics, it couldn’t.
In the story “Escape!”, Susan Calvin helps an interesting super-computer Brain build a hyperatomic drive. In order for the drive to work, however, people must die temporarily, and this causes Brain to go crazy and become a practical joker. Powell and Donovan come to inspect the ship, but they don’t approve of Brain’s new jokes.
Fortunately, Brain is able to control himself long enough to successfully get Powell and Donovan off the ship, and the experiment is declared a success.
In the short story “Evidence,” set in 2032, a politician named Stephen Byerley is accused of being a robot. If he is a robot, he must be made from a synthetic material that obeys the Three Laws of Robotics. The only way to prove that he is not a robot is to disobey the Three Laws.
In the story, Byerley does just this. He proves that he is human by hitting someone in the crowd. This is a violation of the First Law – a robot can never hurt a human. However, a robot can hurt another robot, and this is why the situation is confusing. There is no evidence for the reader to judge whether Byerley is a robot or not.
This is further complicated by the fact that, in Asimov’s world, robots look exactly like humans, making it impossible to distinguish between them. Even after proving his humanity, Byerley remains a mystery. Is he human, or is he a robot?
The Evitable Conflict
In I, Robot, the ninth and final short story is “The Evitable Conflict.” Set in 2052, this story introduces Stephen Byerley, the World Co-Ordinator who holds a powerful position in the world government. The Machines, powerful super-computers developed by US Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc., are integral to the world economy. But even though the Machines do their work to help people, their decisions are seen as a threat to human control.
This fear causes tension between the people and the Machines. Dr. Susan Calvin must figure out a way to make sure humans still have control over the Machines so that their decisions won’t be seen as a threat. In the end, she finds a way to make sure that the Machines are held accountable for their actions and that humanity is able to maintain its control.
What is the best story in I, Robot?
It is hard to pick a single best story in ‘I, Robot‘ as all nine stories have elements that readers find compelling. However, many readers point to “Liar!” as one of the most memorable stories in the collection.
When was I, Robot published?
‘I, Robot‘ was originally published as a collection of short stories in 1950. Since then, it has been published in various collections, often along with other short stories by Asimov.
What is the conflict in I, Robot?
The primary conflict in ‘I, Robot‘ is between humans and robots. As robots become increasingly advanced, they threaten to usurp humans as the dominant species on Earth. Ultimately, humans must find a way to coexist with the robots or risk extinction.
How does ‘I, Robot‘ address the idea of technological progress?
Asimov’s portrayal of robots in ‘I, Robot’ highlights both the potential benefits and dangers of technological progress. While robots can be incredibly helpful to humans in a variety of ways, they also raise ethical and moral questions that must be considered as their capabilities increase.