‘I, Robot’ by Isaac Asimov; Collins, 1971. 256pp

Reviewws by Dave Clements | 28 April 2005

In this collection of short stories written in the 1940s, Asimov explores the human condition and our changing understanding of it, vis-a-vis the robot. Each is linked by the reminisces of Susan Calvin, robo-psychologist with US Robot and Mechanical Men, Inc.

‘Robbie’ is the playmate that causes a mother to worry about her child’s isolation from her peers. ‘Dave’, the asteroid mining multi-robot, is troubled by his personal initiative circuit. ‘Speedy’ is the risk-averse robot collecting selenium on Mercury. ‘Nestor 10’ is uniquely tweaked with only a qualified recognition of the First Law of robotics, that he may not injure a human being. The other robots would instinctively rush in to protect humans exposed to gamma rays, however improbable the potential harm. ‘The Brain’ is only able to create a hyper jump craft because Calvin suppresses the law protecting humanity from its supposed folly.

‘Cutie’ thinks himself a prophet, so unconvinced is he by the notion of his subservience to humankind.

The embrace of risk as a feature of progress is uppermost in what Asimov is doing with these tales. Or perhaps that’s what speaks to the modern reader. The ‘logic’ thing is perhaps one for the sci-fi obsessive. For me, ‘I, Robot’ is a critique of the social pessimism and all pervading anxiety that holds back potentially beneficial advances. A timeless classic, nevertheless with profound insights for our times.


Author: austinwilliams

Austin Williams is the director of the Future Cities Project and author of a number of books on the environment and on China. The latest are "China's Urban Revolution" (Bloomsbury) and "New Chinese Architecture: Twenty Women Building the Future" (Thames and Hudson).

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