If you’re picking up I, Robot thinking you’re getting the Will Smith “adaptation,” then you’re going to be disappointed. Isaac Asimov’s book is in fact a collection of nine science fiction stories that chronicle the growing pains between humans and robots as mankind struggles with how it wants to integrate these powerful creations into their lives. Written over the 1940s for two science fiction magazines they are some of the author’s earliest works, introducing the three fundamental laws of robotics – in the Run Around [circa 1942] – that Asimov felt would be logically necessary to protect humans from their creations, the vignettes are a series of interviews by the world’s preeminent robo-pyschologist Dr. Susan Calvin as she reminiscences over the evolution of this relationship during her lifetime, as the corporation – U.S. Robots & Mechanical Men – responsible for their development discovers with each boundary of robotics they push a new surprise in store. Calvin’s fondness for robots is clear throughout the narrative, believing them more honest than humans tend to be, and that despite the various hiccups that occur between them and robots, that if utilized correctly could be powerful companions for mankind’s foray into the dangerous business of space exploration.
Three Laws of Robotics
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 Laws.
These laws have in fact become the standard used when depicting robots in science fiction, and has even been adopted by government’s like South Korea as the working model for real world development, showing just how visionary Asimov’s work really is. This is another great book for reading during the commute thanks to the shortness of each vignette, but enough of the same characters return throughout the narrative that you feel as though you are being given a very rich story while you explore the question of what the relationship between humans and robots could look like. Given our growing reliance on computing this is definitely worth the read for understanding some of the dangers we might face for not fully thinking through the consequence of how we might program an artificial intelligence to interact with us, how we might inadvertently communicate our desires to them, and how that in turn could be unintentionally interpreted. If you’re a fan of “hard” science fiction, then this is definitely one to read.