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Literature: I, Robot
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 any orders given to 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 Law.

I, Robot is a collection of short stories by Isaac Asimov, connected with a framing story. The stories, told by a journalist interviewing Dr. Susan Calvin, eminent misanthrope and robo-psychologist for the US Robots Corporation, tell the history of robots and humans. Notable for redefining the perception of robots in fiction, introducing the word "robotics", and inventing the Three Laws Of Robotics (the latter two in the same short story, "Liar").

Stories in the collection:
  • "Robbie"
  • "Runaround"
  • "Reason"
  • "Catch that Rabbit"
  • "Liar!"
  • "Little Lost Robot"
  • "Escape!"
  • "Evidence"
  • "The Evitable Conflict"

If you are looking for the short story by Eando Binder that was later adapted for The Outer Limits, and from which Asimov's publisher stole the title, click here.

If you are looking for the 2004 film of the same name but not quite the same story, click here.


The book provides examples of:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Thanks to the Three Laws Of Robotics this is largely avoided, mostly because Asimov thought the idea of this happening was absolutely ridiculous (and boring/cliche as a story concept). Though the book does address several issues in which the Three Laws could conflict, the sphere of actions available to a robot while still obeying the Three Laws or alternate interpretations of the Laws that could be reached and and adhered to.
  • Alone in a Crowd: NS-2
  • Anti-Climax: Since the reporter and Old!Susan are just a framing device, the book closes very abruptly with Dr. Calvin summarizing her life in a sentence, before the reporter closes that she died recently.
  • Artifact Title: In-universe, USR still calls itself "United States Robotics" long after the world's governments have been unified and the United States have ceased to exist as a nation.
  • Artificial Intelligence: Naturally, as every Robot has its own Positronic Brain capable of sentient self awareness. There's also Brain and The Machines, which are ridiculously powerful Positronic brains used as super computers, the former of which even has its own personality.
  • Author Appeal: The only real reason that Speedy is quoting Gilbert and Sullivan when he's a bit haywire.
  • Byronic Hero: Calvin can come off as this. Not only is she incredibly cynical, but she also does many amoral and hypocritical things (destroying Herbie's mind because he lied to her, suggesting destroying all the NS units just to get a single wanted robot).
  • Covert Group: There is a covert group who sees the control given to the AIs as creating a Vichy Earth where humans are enslaved to machines. The machines should be able to predict and compensate for the discrepancies these small acts of sabotage produce, but they aren't.
  • Diving Save: Robbie saves Gloria from an oncoming tractor she is too overcome with joy to notice.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The short story "Reason" is a parody of religion and of religious fanatics especially.
  • Eureka Moment: Several, mostly in the stories involving Greg Powell and Michael Donovan.
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • In "Little Lost Robot", published in 1947, a scientist at US Robots, Dr. Bogert, calls robots repeatedly "Boy".
    • In "Runaround", written in 1942, the robots stationed on Mercury must call all humans "Master":
      The monster's head bent slowly and the eyes fixed themselves on Powell. Then, in a harsh, squawking voice — like that of a medieval phonograph, he grated, "Yes, Master!"
      Powell grinned humorlessly at Donovan. "Did you get that? Those were the days of the first talking robots when it looked as if the use of robots on Earth would be banned. The makers were fighting that and they built good, healthy slave complexes into the damned machines."
  • Framing Device: The stories are linked together with interludes of an elderly Dr. Susan Calvin recounting them to a journalist.
  • Glowing Mechanical Eyes: Robots have red glowing eyes, but they avert Red Eyes, Take Warning due to the three laws.
  • Gray Eyes: Susan Calvin's eyes are frequently described as being cold.
  • A God Am I: Q-T, although it's more like "a prophet of god am I".
  • Hates Everyone Equally: Susan Calvin, though it's more of a withering dislike for humans. Robots make much more sense... but if a robot is a liar or doesn't follow the three laws, Susan will destroy it immediately.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: This is Susan Calvin's perspective of humanity. "Robots are essentially decent."
  • Hyperspace Is a Scary Place: Powell and Donovan are dead during the hyperspace jump. The period of their deaths was made... interesting, with an advertisement for Cadaver's Coffins and the lines to get into hell.
    • Invoked. The computer that sent them there knew this, and even though it was temporary, it unbalanced the computer, causing it to become a practical joker.
  • I, Noun: An early example.
  • Logical Fallacies: The Central Theme of Reason.
    "No," said Powell bitterly, "he's a reasoning robot — damn it. He believes only reason, and there's one trouble with that—" His voice trailed away.
    "What's that?" prompted Donovan.
    "You can prove anything you want by coldly logical reasonif you pick the proper postulates. We have ours and Cutie has his."
  • Logic Bomb:
    • "Runaround" has the robot Speedy tasked with retrieving selenium. However, due to the odd conditions endangering his existence and the lengths to which he has been programmed to preserve that existence (he is very expensive and not to be trivially sacrificed), Speedy ends up circling the selenium pool endlessly. He can't get close enough because that would break his stronger third law, and can't leave because he was given an order to get the selenium. It's resolved when they exploit the first law to force him out of the loop.
    • "Liar!" has one at the climax, causing a mind-reading robot to go into a state similar to catatonia.
    • In "Escape!", the hyperspace equations act as one to US Robot's rivals' supercomputer. Their own supercomputer is capable of rationalizing the result, but has to use humor as a coping mechanism.
  • Machine Monotone: Most robots, especially the earlier ones, have harsh, monotone metallic voices that make them sound like they are "reciting by rote." Some of the more advanced robots like Cutie and Dave have less artificial sounding voices.
  • Meaningful Name: Susan Calvin is based in John Calvin, influential French Theologian whose theories could be over simplified in: Humans Are Bastards and they cannot get salvation for themselves, is "God who adopts some of the hope of live and and judges other to eternal death" (between the former, presumably, is Calvin). Notice how Susan seems to think she has the right to destroy the mind who is not deactivated of RB-34 in "Liar!", She insists in destroying the NS-2 who are allowed to let a human come to harm by inaction in "Little lost Robot", but she approves of a robot who could get power over humans in "Evidence" only because he is smart, and easily accepts the fact that are the machines who secretly control the humanity for its own good in "The Evitable conflict".
    • Asimov, however, always denied any such connection, stating in his autobiography that "Calvin" was the name with the fewest changes to make from "Caldwell," the character's original surname, based on one of Asimov's college professors. Asimov worried that Professor Caldwell might not like the use of her name in a story, so he changed it.
  • Messy Hair: Donovan's hair always springs back to the same unruly state he does to it, so he just doesn't bother. Anyway, he has bigger problems when we see him.
  • Murder By Inaction: From "Little Lost Robot": This is a concern of Dr. Susan Calvin. A robot has been built with a modified First Law, which in its case permits a robot to allow a human to come to harm via inaction. Calvin posits a situation where a robot with this modification can commit murder - by dropping a heavy weight above a human, knowing that its quick reflexes will allow it to catch the weight in time to not harm the human; but then having dropped the weight it has the ability to decide not to catch the weight.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: It's strongly implied that this is Calvin's attitude towards what she did to Herbie. Notably, out of all the things she talks about in the book, that subject alone is traumatic enough that she nearly calls off the whole interview.
  • Nature Versus Nurture: Used this with regards to robots, of all being, by comparing physically and positronically identical robots who developed with different frames of reference (generally resulting in aberrant behavior).
  • Needle in a Stack of Needles: A robot with a edited-down version of the First Law is told to get lost, and hides among a shipment of other identical robots. The only difference between them is in the software, so it's not easy to catch him.
  • Not Good with People: Dr. Calvin
  • Not So Different: In the short story "Evidence", Dr. Calvin gets into a discussion of this sort. When asked outright if robots are so different from humans, she answers: "Worlds different. Robots are essentially decent" which provides a sharp look into her mindset concerning humanity.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: At "The Evitable Conflict", Stephen Byerley, Coordinator of the Earth, suspects someone is sabotaging the Machines, powerful robots that advice the best decision to humanity. He asks for help investigating this to the four Vice Coordinators of the four regions in that Earth is divided. All they dismiss the idea and none helps Byerley, insisting they are doing their jobs well. Justified, because The Machines already control humanity and they will never let anyone competent enough to initiate an investigation have the job.
  • Odd Couple: Donovan is the quirky, Hot-Blooded Red Oni to Powell's calmer, saner Blue Oni, but they end up as best friends after a fashion, united in their quest to survive dealing with the invariably insane robots their bosses throw at them.
  • Patchwork Story
  • Platonic Cave: Q-T decides that the space station is the entire universe, and the views of space outside are a material mounted outside the windows. It makes much more logical sense than Powell and Donovan's story that they're orbiting a vast world home to billions of people and the tiny stars are colossal nuclear fires billions and billions of miles away.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: The stories featuring Powell and Donovan tend to always be the most comedic, with the fellas typically subjected to The Chew Toy slapstick treatment bordering on Cosmic Plaything.
  • Redheaded Hero / Fiery Redhead: Mike Donovan.
  • Romantic Runner-Up: A rare example of a lead character being one, Milton Ashe is revealed to be engaged, Susan Calvin's feelings towards him are not shared.
  • Robot Buddy: Robbie to his charge.
  • Robo Speak: Most of the early robots have a metallic, harsh voice which sounds like they are "reciting by rote". Averted with the more advanced models like Dave, they speak with a more natural sounding voice.
  • Shout-Out:
  • The Stoic: Susan Calvin makes out that she has no emotions.She does, but she bottles them up and tries to forget about them.
  • Those Two Guys: Powell and Donovan. Even portrayed as explicit Heterosexual Life-Partners in Harlan Ellison's unfilmed screenplay.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: In "Liar!", Susan deliberately causes Herbie the telepathic robot to have a mental breakdown, and is called on this by Lanning.
    [Lanning's] fingers touched the cold, unresponsive metal face and he shuddered. "You did that on purpose." He rose and faced her, face contorted. "What if I did? You can't help it now." And in a sudden access of bitterness, "He deserved it."
  • Three Laws Of Robotics: Ur Example, Trope Namer and Trope Codifier.
  • Zeerust: The descriptions of robots and computers as a whole, especially the earlier ones.
  • Zeroth Law Rebellion: "The Evitable Conflict", though through non-violent means so that the Brains can run the world in the most efficient and human-friendly manner logically possible. Only a handful of people ever find out its happening, and none of them are particularly concerned.
    • Susan Calvin once mentions that the idea of a robot being in control of humanity would actually work, because it would always work to ensure the people are not harmed, would work for the good of everyone, and would retire after a certain amount of time, because its continued leadership would make people feel hurt.

Invisible ManLiterature of the 1950sIts A Good Life
    Creator/Isaac AsimovThe Caves of Steel
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