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I, Robot
Isaac Asimov
HarperCollins Voyager, 250 pages

I, Robot
Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov was born in 1920 in the town of Petrovichi, Russia. When his family came to the US in 1923, they moved to Brooklyn, NY, eventually settling nearby one of the several candy stores bought by his father. In 1942, he took a wartime job at the Philadelphia Naval Yard and moved back to New York in 1945 where he was inducted into the army.

He attended the Brooklyn campus of Seth Low Junior College and then Columbia University. He graduated with a B.S. in Chemistry in 1939. He got into the master's program in chemistry at Columbia on probation. After a year the probation was lifted, and he earned his M.A. in Chemistry in 1941. He continued on at Columbia in a Ph.D. program where he earned his Ph.D. in Biochemistry in May 1948 (with time out for war service).

He worked as a junior chemist at the Philadelphia Navy Yard from May 1942 to October 1945, together with fellow science fiction authors Robert A. Heinlein and L. Sprague de Camp. In 1948 he obtained a post-doctoral position at Columbia and, in 1949, he took a job as instructor of biochemistry at the Boston University School of Medicine, and was promoted to assistant professor in 1951. He was promoted to associate professor, which provided him with tenure, in 1955. He gave up his teaching duties and salary at the School of Medicine in 1958 , but retained his title, so that on July 1, 1958, he became a full-time writer. In 1979, the school promoted him to the rank of full professor. Asimov died on April 6, 1992 of heart and kidney failure.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The End of Eternity
Isaac Asimov Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Chris Przybyszewski

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Before Will Smith presented his rendition of I, Robot, Isaac Asimov had a pretty good collection of short stories on his hands. The original I, Robot, published first in 1950, was a collection of pulp science fiction short stories which were published between 1940 and 1950. In this collection, Asimov explored what he saw as the inevitability of the human condition: the creation of artificial life. Or, as Asimov argues, the created life is not so artificial.

In today's world of 2005, the science of robotics has taken a back seat to genetics and the cloning made possible by the bioengineering sciences. However, one look to Mars and the Titan moon of Saturn shows robotic arms, legs (wheels), and eyes (sensors) doing those things that humans cannot because of the fragility inherent to their bones.

These robots have nothing resembling a human cortex, the part of the brain that creates reason, thinks ahead, and which makes conscious decisions. Rather, these far-reaching automatons are machines that send and receive messages from their human creators. Still, Asimov's point is clear: humans are creating a new type of life, one based on mechanics rather than biologics.

As creators, Asimov posits, humans should be mindful of how the creator treats the created. Will these new beings be slaves? Will the legions of constructs be treated as animals? Will the human race consider these creations as equal counterparts to the human on this blue orb?

My bet is not on the final choice, and in that, Asimov agrees.

The collection's first short story is about the first line of robots created by U.S. Robotics, the fictional company behind the creation of this new species. "Robbie," the name of the story as well as the line of robots, was a non-verbal robot, one that could not speak. The Robbie of this story is a nanny to a child of wealthy buyers.

To the child, Robbie is a best friend, a confidant, and a generally more loveable object than either parent. The mother -- stereotypically -- thinks that Robbie is dangerous, though she would not take care of the child, herself.

Asimov moves past this usual tale of negligent parents with Robbie's characterization. For example, Robbie is infatuated by child stories like Cinderella. The idea of a story is a human invention. Through stories, people can reach backwards and forward in time. Through stories, humans can use that singular device of humanity: imagination. Apparently, Robbie feels the same way. Perhaps Robbie's cognition of stories is the same as early humans, who are well known to be storytellers.

By showing the emergent qualities of this robot named Robbie, Asimov reminds his readers that creations with the capability of growth might outstrip the growth of the creators. A later story called "reason" shows the Robot QT-1 (called "Cutie"), who decides that his mission in existence is to serve the 'Master.' In this case, the Master is a vast energy-collecting machine that funnels solar power from the sun to the Earth.

In accordance to Cutie's beliefs, the Master requires perfect control, a control that is impossible for humans to create. Therefore, Cutie takes over the energy station, locks away the command counsel, and runs things on his own. Happily for this futuristic Earth, Cutie serves his Master faithfully, and all are spared being blasted by out-of-control, condensed solar radiation.

Control of Master implies that all protocol and safety regulations are followed. Control of the Master also implies that the Master is enabled to do the job it was created to do: safely funnel energy from one spot to another. The irony is that Cutie believes he is working the will of his Master. However, he is only following his programming: to safely control the Master.

Asimov's comment is that while humans exhibit extraordinary reasoning capabilities (when they so choose), this reasoning might be -- at the end of the day -- a function of hardwired programming, given to us by some sort of creator (be it biologic or spiritual).

Asimov shows the culmination of the robot evolution in the robot control of humankind, less than a century after Robbie's creation. Robots now control humans in order to protect them, since Robots can ensure that the free will of humans will never endanger the race again (though drunken toga parties are apparently off the humans' to do list as well). This collection in I, Robot veers off course from the Will Smith movie. Whereas Smith, et al., destroy the smothering, but protective robot mind, Asimov personally left the future of robotics to the mind of the reader.

This is appropriate because Asimov was never one for the present. Rather, he was one for the future. He did not care so much for reality rather than possibility. In I, Robot, Asimov shows a future possible to a society bent on creating without understanding the purpose or even the nature of that creation.

Copyright © 2005 Chris Przybyszewski

Chris learned to read from books of fantasy and science fiction, in that order. And any time he can find a graphic novel that inspires, that's good too.


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