I, Robot by Isaac Asimov [Book Thoughts]

I, Robot is a neat box of puzzles. Each is gripping and intellectually stimulating. Easy to read, but best enjoyed with a healthy interest in programming and/or mathematics. Heroine for a Sci-Fi fan.
-Imran

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Isaac Asimov was a professor of Biochemistry at the Boston University and a legend in the realm of science fiction. His Foundation and Robot novels, ironically, set the foundation for modern science fiction and, 20 years after his death in 1992, his influence in modern science fiction is still visible and apparent. Asimov is credited with writing or editing over 500 books in his lifetime and his career was a glittering one filled with recognition and awards. After reading through I, Robot, I’m beginning to see why all of that is.

 I, Robot is a collection of short stories that link together to form an overarching narrative about a world where the existence of robots has changed the course of history (please forget the connection to the 2004 movie starring Will Smith. That has nothing to do with this). The 9 short stories begin in mid-nineties where the first robots perform simple functions and continue late into the 21st century where robots are involved in all manner of things from off-world mining to politics. There’s a lovely sense of development throughout the book as you see the world grow and alter as a result of the robots and how the robots themselves change as their development furthers. The robots in question are governed by Asimov’s now-famous Three Laws of Robotics. The Three Laws programmed into the robots are:

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

  1. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  2. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

The Laws themselves sound quite neat and tidy on paper but they start to cause problems when you present the robots with more complicated scenarios. For example, what happens when a Robot is ordered to answer a question, but answering the question truthfully would cause harm to the questioner? And this is what forms the crux of each short story: one or more of the main characters from the U.S. Robots corporation are presented with a problem involving robots that needs solving; and as the robots themselves become more complex, so do the problems.

There are robots that disobey orders whenever they’re not watched, robots that can read minds, that can lie, that have messiah complexes, there are even robots that are capable of harming humans by faulty reasoning. The book sets up fascinating problems and then creates a sense of tension as the characters try to solve them, usually with dire consequences if they don’t. It makes for truly mind-blowing reading at times but even so there’s an underlying mathematical logic to the robots that you can really buy into. It’s probably one of the most believable fictional words I’ve had contact with.

 Without saying much more, I, Robot is one of the few books that, after I finished reading it, I wish had more. If this is just the tip of the iceberg of what Asimov has to offer then I think I’m going to delve quite deeply into his works.

I, Robot is a neat box of puzzles. Each is gripping and intellectually stimulating. Easy to read, but best enjoyed with a healthy interest in programming and/or mathematics. Heroine for a Sci-Fi fan.

 See you next week

 

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