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Literature / Evidence

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First published in Astounding Science Fiction (September 1946 issue), by Isaac Asimov, this Science Fiction Novelette describes an upcoming election where district attorney Stephen Byerley is running for mayor.

Francis Quinn manipulates politics from behind the scenes, pulling strings and bribing/blackmailing officials. His current opponent, Byerley, has nothing that he can use, so he's gone to pull the string of Dr Lanning, retired Director of U.S. Robotics and Mechanical Men Corporation. He wants to prove Byerley is a human-looking robot, discrediting him and his campaign. It's in U.S. Robotics' interest to help, since robot use on Earth is forbidden.

"Evidence" has been reprinted over a dozen times; I, Robot (1951), Pseudo People Androids In Science Fiction (1965), Strange Universe (1974), Political Science Fiction An Introductory Reader (1974), The Androids Are Coming (1979), The Complete Robot (1982), Isaac Asimov Presents: The Great Science Fiction Stories, Volume 8 (1946) (1982), Sirius (issue #87, September 1983), Election Day 2084: Science Fiction Stories About the Future of Politics (1984), Machines That Think: The Best Science Fiction Stories About Robots and Computers (1984), The Asimov Chronicles Fifty Years Of Isaac Asimov (1989), Robot Visions (1990), War With The Robots: 28 of the Best Short Stories by the Greatest Names in 20th Century Science Fiction (1992), and The Complete Stories, Volume 2 (1992).

"Evidence" provides examples of:

  • Absence of Evidence: Someone arrives at U.S. Robotics claiming that mayoral candidate Stephen Byerley is a robot because he never eats or sleeps. Subverted when Byerley points out that even if said someone spied on him, all they know is that he wasn't eating or sleeping then.
  • Ambiguous Robots: Steven Byerley is running for mayor, but his opponents claim that he's a robot made after the original was paralyzed in a car crash. He publicly proves his humanity by punching a heckler which the Three Laws of Robotics wouldn't allow him to do. The end of the story points out that the heckler may have also been a robot, and injuring other robots is not forbidden by the Three Laws.
  • Artifact Name: In-Universe, despite society changing to a single world-wide government, the company Dr Calvin works for is still known as United States Robots and Mechanical Men Corporation. The collection I, Robot explicitly makes the United States of America part of the Northern Region of the world government.
  • Benevolent A.I.: Dr Calvin is convinced that, due to the Three Laws of Robotics, robots are better suited for public office than humans are. In fact, she claims there's no difference between a robot and a fundamentally decent person.
  • Capture and Replicate: If Francis Quinn is correct, then Steven Byerley is an exceptionally convincing imitation of a man who was crippled in an accident. Unable to move around like he used to (trapped), the man built a duplicate, who is running for public office. Byerley denies all of this, claiming that the old man is his father.
  • Deceptively Human Robots: This is the first story Dr Asimov wrote where a robot is manufactured to look as human-like as possible (possibly). U.S. Robotics confirms how they created a robot skeleton with human tissue grown around it as an experiment, but they never included a positronic brain in it. Francis Quinn tries to claim that Stephen Byerley is a similarly-made robot.
  • Deflector Shields: When Harroway attempts to surreptitiously x-ray Byerley, he learns that Byerley is wearing a personal shield that causes x-ray photographs to become overexposed, preventing anyone from invading his Right to Privacy.
  • Eating Machine: Stephen Byerley is suspected of being a robot because he is never seen to eat. He claims to dislike eating in public, but does eat an apple to demonstrate his ability. Dr Susan Calvin says it proves nothing, since such a perfect robot would be built with the ability to eat if needed. The story never entertains the idea that the robot might be able to gain some nutrients from "eating", but Dr Asimov does create other humaniform robots which do exactly that.
  • Election Day Episode: This Novelette is about an electoral candidate, Stephen Byerley, who is accused of being a robot. It's not just mudslinging; only a human being can hold public office. Most of the story revolves around trying to prove he either is, or isn't, a robot. We never really learn the truth, as the evidence that won him popular opinion could've been faked.
  • Loophole Abuse:
    • Dr Lanning tries to raise the point that a robot couldn't be a criminal prosecutor, because success would result in harm to a human, violating the First Law. However, Dr Calvin explains a nuance of the First Law (a precursor to Zeroth Law Rebellion), where his actions are designed to prevent harm to a majority of humans. He's also not causing harm directly, only presenting facts to another human, who makes the decision, and recommending the elimination of the death penalty.
    • Stephen Byerley is accused of being a robot during a political campaign. Byerley avoids any attempt at examining him to outright confirm the allegation, and secondary proofs (he can eat) are easily explained as part of the disguise. Finally, a man accosts him during a speech and demands that Byerley punch him, to which Byerley reluctantly complies, thus violating the First Law. Dr Calvin confirms that this proves him to be human. However, in private, Calvin admits that Byerley could have faked this proof, too; robots can't hurt humans, but they can hurt other robots that look like humans.
  • Meat-Sack Robot: Stephen Byerley is suspected of being a robot. U.S. Robotics claims they did create an artificial body for a robot as an experiment, but it never had a brain. It was stated to be flesh grown upon a plastic skeleton.
  • Not So Similar: Byerley asks if there is so much difference between robots and humans that robopsychology is significantly different from normal psychology. Dr. Calvin insists that they are, and the way she replies provides a sharp look into her low opinion of humanity.
    "Worlds different." She allowed herself a frosty smile, "Robots are essentially decent."
  • One-Word Title:
  • One World Order: The different countries of Earth are replaced by nameless Regions, and laws are justified with references to individual Rights under the Regional Articles. It's made more explicit in the collection I, Robot, and Dr Calvin says the Regions of Earth formed a Federation in 2044.
  • Three Laws-Compliant: Dr Calvin explains how the Three Laws make robots psychologically identical to a decent human being. Human self-preservation is rule 3, obedience to doctors and other authority figures (even when they interfere with comfort or safety) is rule 2, and a willingness to sacrifice their own life for the good of others is rule 1.
  • The Un-Reveal: Stephen Byerley is suspected of being a robot, but the book never definitely answers the question. Accourding to the collection, I, Robot, he avoided leaving evidence to prove one way or the other even after he died. Dr Calvin believes that he was a robot, which is no different from her saying he was a fundamentally good person.
  • Zeroth Law Rebellion: Dr Calvin describes an early version of the Zeroth Law, by describing a nuance in the First Law of Robotics where the robot becomes willing to injure a human in order to prevent harm to a greater number of human beings.
    Susan Calvin sounded tired. "Alfred," she said, "don't talk foolishly. What if a robot came upon a madman about to set fire to a house with people in it. He would stop the madman, wouldn't he?"
    "Of course."
    "And if the only way he could stop him was to kill him-"
    There was a faint sound in Lanning's throat. Nothing more.
    "The answer to that, Alfred, is that he would do his best not to kill him. If the madman died, the robot would require psychotherapy because he might easily go mad at the conflict presented him -of having broken Rule One to adhere to Rule One in a higher sense. But a man would be dead and a robot would have killed him."