After reading Martin Kral’s great post about The Three Laws of Robotics and with a little influence from the Begin Robotics course I have recently finished, I decided it was probably time for me to read some of the great Isaac Asimov’s work.
I started with I, Robot which is a collection of short stories which all revolve around the famous Three Laws of Robotics and the potential problems that such logic could bring. For the uninitiated:
First: A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human to come to harm.
Second: A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
Third: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
– Handbook of Robotics, 56th Edition, 2058 A.D.
The book is structured as an interview with the fictional Robopsychologist Dr Susan Calvin and progresses through the development of robots in Asimov’s world. The first story features a young girl and her robot companion, Robbie, an early model which cannot speak. The stories then jump forward to look at the lives of robotics field testers Powell and Donovan once the mechanical men have become integrated into society; and things take a darker turn in the final story “The Evitable Conflict” in which it is the year 2052 and the seemingly omniscient Machines control the worldwide (or rather, Universe wide) economy and politics to keep war at bay.
It’s difficult to keep reminding yourself when reading this book that the first story was written way back in 1939. Asimov has created an entire SciFi world with technologies very similar the ones arising now – he writes about artificial intelligence, cybernetics and there’s even mention of a ‘Visor phone’ which allows face-to-face communication through the use of light cells (FaceTime anyone?). Of course, there are a few things which seem a bit ridiculous these days, like a robot which uses thousands of relays instead of a microcontroller or processor, but Asimov’s world in which robotics is a normal profession, and robots have become the norm to the point where laws are to be made to govern them, is so brilliantly imagined and eerily similar to modern SciFi that it gives me chills. The man was an absolute genius! I’ve already ordered another 3 of his books which I’m sure I will devour just as quickly.
Back to the books, ciao!