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Literature / Feminine Intuition

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First published in The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction (October 1969 issue), by Isaac Asimov, this novelette is after Dr Susan Calvin retires from United States Robots and Mechanical Men Corporation, having passed on her role as Chief Robopsychologist to Clinton Madarian.

One of the first actions Madarian takes in his new role as Chief Robopsychologist is to design a robot "without constraints". He's annoyed when he has to point out that Three Laws-Compliant are not the only constraints modern robots are built with, and discussion on how to pitch his idea in a public-friendly way leads him to declare the JN series as feminine robots, with feminine intuition.


"Feminine Intuition" has been republished several times;Twenty Years Of The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction (1970), Planet Der Selbstmorder (1970), Fiction (issue #199, July 1970), The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories (1976), Urania (issue #736, November 1977), The Complete Robot (1982), The Asimov Chronicles: Fifty Years of Isaac Asimov (1989), Robot Visions Collection (1990), and The Complete Stories, Volume 2 (1992).


"Feminine Intuition" contains examples of:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: This story follows why the first model isn't always the final design model, as JN-1 has a pinched waist that Bogert rejects on the basis of structural weakness. JN-2 proves incapable of drawing correlations at all, JN-3 had a flaw in the design that ruined the brain, and JN-4 was nearly, but not quite, what Madarian wanted. JN-5 was the final prototype, after billions of dollars and years of work had been invested.
  • Asteroid Thicket: While the chief robopsychologist and a prototype robot with important information about nearby habitable exoplanets are being transported via aircraft, they're hit by a meteorite. Because of how improbable it is, the characters speculate as to whether some higher intelligence orchestrated the meteor strike to keep Earth from learning about their alien neighbors. The odds against this happening are so astronomically high, they're compared to the odds of guessing the location of exoplanets to colonize in the first place.
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  • Beneath Notice: Bogart goes crazy trying to find the "witness" Madarian claimed had heard Jane rattle off the location of three potentially habitable exoplanets. He's desperate enough to ask Dr Calvin for advice, who quickly realizes that Bogart didn't think to ask the truck driver.
    "The trouble with you, Peter, is that when you think of a witness to a planetological statement, you think of planetologists. You divide up human beings into categories, and despise and dismiss most. A robot cannot do that. The First Law says, 'A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.' Any human being. That is the essence of the robotic view of life. A robot makes no distinction. To a robot, all men are truly equal, and to a robopsychologist who must perforce deal with men at the robotic level, all men are truly equal, too."
    "It would not occur to Madarian to say a truck driver had heard the statement. To you a truck driver is not a scientist but is a mere animate adjunct of a truck, but to Madarian he was a man and a witness. Nothing more. Nothing less."
  • Character Title: The 1970 German translation calls this "Jane 5", promoting the robot to titular importance.
  • Energetic and Soft-Spoken Duo: Dr Calvin invokes this trope, recognizing that people would appreciate having an ebullient extrovert after decades of her being an indomitable introvert. He replaces her as Chief Robopsychologist in this story.
  • Fembot: The JN series (Jane) of robots Invoked the idea of a feminine robot in order to quell potential unrest against the idea of "robots without constraint", designed to be more creative than previous models. They experimented with narrower "hips" (but discarded it in the next iterations), used female pronouns, and created a contralto voice to defy Robo Speak. When the whole project is explained to Dr Calvin, she begins rolling her eyes as hard as she can.
  • In Medias Res: This story starts after a meteorite has killed Chief Robopsychologist Clinton Madarian and destroyed JN-5, before rewinding years back to when Dr Calvin resigned, promoting Madarian to her former role.
  • In-Series Nickname: US Robots were originally assuming they would nickname the JN series "John". Once they come up with the gimmick of presenting their creative brain as "feminine intuition", the nickname was changed to "Jane".
  • Men Are Generic, Women Are Special: The robots built by US Robotics have no gender, but when it's suggested that thy build a robot with intuition, people immediately jump to the idea of a girl robot. Madarian takes that idea and pushes it as a way to make the JN series special.
    Madarian seized on that. "All right. A girl robot. Our robots are sexless, of course, and so will this one be, but we always act as though they're males. We give them male pet names and call them he and him. Now this one, if we consider the nature of the mathematical structuring of the brain which I have proposed, would fall into the JN-coordinate system. The first robot would be JN-1, and I've assumed that it would be called John-10...I'm afraid that is the level of originality of the average roboticist. But why not call it Jane-1, damn it? If the public has to be let in on what we're doing, we're constructing a feminine robot with intuition."
  • New Tech Is Not Cheap: After several failures together costing half a billion dollars, JN-5, Madarian insists that the previous attempts weren't failures, explaining what was learned was also of benefit to the company.
  • Non-Mammal Mammaries: The first model, JN-1, has a narrowed waistline to imply Fembot. Bogart objects to this, as well as the potential "breasts" that might go along with them. JN-5 is just a little more delicate in build then a 'male', with a tapering waist and a voice described as liquid and musical. Since Dr Asimov was known for lampooning robot tropes, it's likely that this was a deliberate dig at other 'female' robots in fiction.
  • Orwellian Retcon: Some versions of the story (such as in The Complete Robot) contain the Three Laws of Robotics, while other publications (such as in Robot Visions Collection) leave it out.
  • Perverse Sexual Lust: The planetologists at Flagstaff Observatory are initially wary of the JN-5 robot that was brought to them to determine where the most likely habitable exoplanet is, but when they hear her voice, she immediately becomes "Jane", and they try impressing her.
    "She said, 'Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am so glad to meet you.' And it came out in this beautiful contralto...That was it. One man straightened his tie, and another ran his fingers through his hair. What really got me was that the oldest guy in the place actually checked his fly to make sure it was zipped. They're all crazy about her now. All they needed was the voice. She isn't a robot any more; she's a girl."
  • Robot Names: US Robots were originally assuming the JN series would be nicknamed John. Once they come up with the gimmick of presenting the series's more creative brain as "feminine intuition", they became Janes.
  • Secondary Character Title: The 1970 German translation, "Jane 5", prompts the prototype robot to titular importance, despite not ever speaking on-screen.
  • Society Marches On: The designers of a subtly feminine-looking robot believe that everyone will assume it is mentally inferior to other robots. One character explicitly states that if there's anything the average person believes, it's that women are less intelligent than men. Upon saying this, he nervously glances around (Dr Susan Calvin having recently retired). At the end, after Dr Calvin comes back to save the day, the lesson is that men dismiss women's equal (if not superior) intelligence as mere "intuition".
  • Women Are Wiser: This story sets up the idea that women have an intuition for the right decision that men lack, only to Subvert it at the end, when the narration reveals that Dr Calvin simply took the practical action of calling the truck driver to confirm her guess. Women are apparently blessed with common sense, not magical thinking (although it may as well be magical to the people who don't have any).


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