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Literature / Catch That Rabbit

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First published in Astounding Science Fiction (February 1944 issue), by Isaac Asimov, this Science Fiction Short Story is about another instance when robots don't function as intended, so the field-testers of US Robotics and Mechanical Men Corporation have to figure out why.

In the asteroid belt, Powell and Donovan are working with a new prototype robot, DV-5 (also known as Dave). Dave's design is a central robot with six additional robots networked to function as subsidiary devices. They function within acceptable parameters while supervised, but under certain conditions they stop working for hours at a time. The pair of field testers worry that if they don't figure out how to fix it (or at least what's causing it) they'll lose their jobs. Unfortunately, during one of their covert observations, they get trapped by a cave-in while Dave is malfunctioning. If they can't get him to work properly, they'll die.

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"Catch That Rabbit" has been reprinted four times; I, Robot (1951), The Complete Robot (1982), Robur 10 (1985), and The Asimov Chronicles Fifty Years Of Isaac Asimov (1989).


"Catch That Rabbit" provides examples of:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: DV-5 is designed to be a central robot with six additional robots networked to function as subsidiary units. It should be capable of mining asteroids without supervision. At least, that's what the engineers who built him say. Field testers Gregory Powell and Mike Donovan have discovered a problem, and they'll lose their jobs if they can't figure out a solution soon.
    "There's still the possibility of a mechanical breakdown in the body. That leaves about fifteen hundred condensers, twenty thousand individual electric circuits, five hundred vacuum cells, a thousand relays, and upty-ump thousand other individual pieces of complexity that can be wrong. And these mysterious positronic fields no one knows anything about."
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  • Artificial Intelligence: DV-5 is a robot with a positronic brain that gives it human-level intelligence. The subsidiary units are less complex, but still capable of natural language processing.
    a mass of condensers, circuits, relays, and vacuum cells that can handle practically any psychological reaction known to humans. And a positronic brain, which with ten pounds of matter and a few quintillions of positrons runs the whole show.
  • Asteroid Miners: The DV-5 unit is expected to automate asteroid mining, so Powell and Donovan are testing him out on an unnamed asteroid.
  • Character Tics: Gregory Powell sometimes pulls at the ends of his mustache when he's nervous. In this story, he tries to do that while wearing a spacesuit.
  • Eleventy Zillion: When Powell is emphasizing how many parts of DV-5 could be responsible for the conflict in this story, he says there's "upty-ump thousand other individual pieces of complexity that can be wrong."
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  • Eureka Moment: Powell's moment of clarity occurs just in time for them to shoot one of the subsidiary robots, getting Dave to work again. Using the analogy of subsidiary=finger, Powell realized that the dancing and marching was due to Dave "twiddling his fingers" while he worked out what needed to be done.
  • Fictional Document: Gregory Powell always keeps a copy of the Handbook of Robotics nearby. A Noodle Incident is referenced where he would've ran out of a burning building naked rather than lose his copy.
  • George Jetson Job Security: Powell and Donovan are worried that failing to solve the bugs during field testing will cause them to lose their jobs. They refer to the company's unofficial motto; "No employee makes the same mistake twice. He is fired the first time."
  • In-Series Nickname: The DV series robot is unofficially called 'Dave'.
  • Machine Monotone:
    • The DV-5 model robot is designed with an "excellent" diaphragm that allows him to use a wider range of inflections and tones. This is in contrast to earlier models who speak with "metallic flatness".
    • The subsidiary units to DV-5 are not given the same diaphragm and programming for inflection. When Powell and Donovan interview a "finger", its answers are given by rote, without enthusiasm or interest.
  • Robot Names: The DV series model is of a central robot with six additional robots networked to function as subsidiary systems. The central robot is officially DV-5 (and unofficially Dave), while the first of the subsidiaries is DV-5-2.
  • Title Drop: Powell reminds Donovan that the first step in cooking rabbit stew is catching the rabbit. This is an analogy, that they first must figure out what is going wrong before they can solve the problem.
  • Unusual Euphemism: In addition to a few expressions typical for the 1950s, Powell and Donovan use space-based expletives to express frustration/surprise. They say things like "Holy-howling-Jupiter" or "Jumping Space".
  • You Are Number 6: The DV series model is of a central robot with six additional robots networked to function as subsidiary systems. The central robot is officially DV-5 (and unofficially Dave), while the first of the subsidiaries is DV-5-2.


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