Nut Ink. Mini reviews of texts old and new. No fuss. No plot spoilers. No adverts. Occasional competency.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

I, Robot (1950)

Author: Isaac Asimov | Page Count:  256

"People say 'It's as plain as the nose on your face.' But how much of the nose on your face can you see, unless someone holds a mirror up to you?” 

I, Robot is one of Isaac Asimov’s most famous works.  People know of it even if they haven’t read it.  It’s a collection of nine short stories loosely tied together by a frame narrative.  It introduced Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, which were designed to be unbreakable.

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

Making them unbreakable didn't stop him spending the rest of his career bending them, or finding new ways to interpret them.  That’s where Dr. Susan Calvin comes in.  Susan is a robopsychologist.  When something goes wrong with a robot that can’t be attributed to mechanical error, it’s her job to figure out why.  Was the order given in conflict with the Three Laws?  Or was it open to misinterpretation by the robot?  They are thinking machines after all, they need to be to function autonomously, but are they given too much free will?

The prose style is simple and direct, which is an asset to the story as it lets you engage fully with the concepts without losing the narrative thread.
Albert Einstein said, “If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.”  Even though Asimov’s technology is fictional, he understands it completely.  He explains complicated scenarios in simple terms, without it ever feeling diluted.  Mostly they’re puzzles that need to be figured out, sometimes by connecting the dots, and sometimes by creating the dots from scratch.   Once the puzzle is solved, there’s an abrupt ending each time.

4 positronic brains out of 5

3 comments:

Borderline said...

Do you plan on nutting any more of Asimov's robot series?

Robots of Dawn is the pinnacle imo.

Dr Faustus said...

I was planning to do them all over time, but if you want to call dibs on any of them, go ahead. A different perspective is always welcome.

I started Caves of Steel as soon as I finished I, Robot. Asimov is addictive.

I'm not sure if I'll do The Foundation series.

Borderline said...

I don't currently own a copy of Robots of Dawn so I can't call dibs.