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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.
  • Androids Are People, Too: As the story goes on it becomes very clear that Madarian has come to love Jane-5 the way a parent loves a child, praising her whenever she succeeds at even a minor task, gets very offended when Bogert critiques her performance, pulls strings so she can go to Earth despite the Ban on A.I., and is really protective of her above and beyond just being expensive. When Jane goes to Flagstaff, the astronomers are just as enamored of her as they would be a real woman. Because Jane can reason intuitively unlike earlier robots, it’s implied that she is the first robot to actually deserve being treated this way, since intuition and troubleshooting was the only remaining advantage humans had over robots.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Future Society, Present Values: While the story plainly deconstructs the prejudices behind the titular trope, the extent to which characters in its future setting baldly state that most people believe women to be less intelligent still comes across as jarring today.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: Though probably not intended as anything more than Future Society, Present Values, the story did predict that the real life tech industry would be laughably sexist, about 40 years before this became known. The line about “everyone knowing” women are dumber than men, which is disproved in the story itself, might not even be an example of that trope if we assume the board mistakenly think their sexism is more common than it is and are blind to their own biases that prevent them from being wholly rational actors.
  • 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 they 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."
  • Million to One Chance: The meteorite that kills Madarian and destroys Jane is so unlikely that one character opens the possibility that it was divine wrath.
  • 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."
  • Posthumous Character: Madarian and Jane die at the start, then there is a flashback to the JN series’ creation.
  • 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.
  • Self-Parody: Makes fun of the male chauvinism present in the earlier robot stories written before women’s lib. The men are all fools and Susan the only one not clutching the Idiot Ball. Unlike “First Law” though, Dr. Asimov never said it wasn’t meant seriously.
  • Spiritual Successor: To “First Law”. They are the only two Asimov stories to feature female robots, the robots are special for reasons beyond that, and both stories mock the series conventions.
  • Title Drop:
    • Madarian references the story's title when he proposes that the creative robot be marketed as "a feminine robot with intuition."
    • Towards the story's end, Susan Calvin says the title directly when Bogert is filling her in on the situation around the JN robot.
      She snorted at one point. "Feminine intuition? Is that what you wanted the robot for? You men. Faced with a woman reaching a correct conclusion and unable to accept the fact that she is your equal or superior in intelligence, you invent something called feminine 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).
  • You Go, Girl!: The ending is basically Susan Calvin telling the guys how dumb they are.