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Literature / Lenny

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First published in Infinity Science Fiction (January 1958 issue), by Isaac Asimov, this is another Susan Calvin Short Story, and features a robot that is capable of breaking the First Law of Robotics.

During a tour of United States Robots and Mechanical Men Corporation, a visitor plays with the computer and ruins the program for the prototype LNE model. The three company experts, Peter Bogert (Senior Mathematician), Alfred Lanning (Research Director), and Susan Calvin (Robopsychologist) discuss the matter.

Bogert and Lanning want to dismantle the useless construct, but Dr. Calvin decides that she needs to run tests on the robot, and takes the prototype to her personal laboratory. Despite her insistence that there is something to be learned from the broken Lenny prototype, the otters don't believe her, and things come to a head when it breaks the arm of another employee.

"Lenny" has been republished several times; The Expert Dreamers (1962), Dodici Volte Domani (1964), The Rest of the Robots (1964), Androids Time Machines And Blue Giraffes (1973), Visions Of Tomorrow (1976), The Complete Robot (1982), Robot Visions Collection (1990), and The Complete Stories, Volume 2 (1992).

"Lenny" contains examples of:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Due to a visitor playing around with the computer responsible for programming positronic brains, the titular LNE model ended up with a ruined positronic brain, unable to properly process even the most basic parts of its programming, the Three Laws of Robotics.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Dr. Susan Calvin is the only robopsychologist at United States Robots and Mechanical Men Corporation, and Director Lanning would love to fire her, due to perceived transgressions such as her decision to investigate and experiment on a robot that is so broken it cannot perform any work. However, he acknowledges that she is too valuable to fire, as she has personally saved the company millions of dollars.
    Lanning nodded. He had lost count of the many times it would have done his soul good to have fired Susan Calvin. He had also lost count of the number of millions of dollars she had at one time or another saved the company. She was a truly indispensable woman and would remain one until she died-or until they could lick the problem of finding men and women of her own high caliber who were interested in robotics research.
  • Dramatic Irony: After Lanning declares that no harm can come of letting Dr. Calvin work with the LNE prototype, the narration specifically takes time to point out how he was wrong, explaining that the 'Robot out of control' alarm has been activated for the first time in the history of U. S. Robots.
    In that, if in nothing else, he was wrong.
  • Inevitably Broken Rule: The titular LNE model ended up with a ruined positronic brain, unable to properly process even the most basic parts of the Three Laws. It ends up accidentally breaking someone's arm.
  • In-Series Nickname: The robot in this work is the LNE model, so Dr. Calvin nicknames it Lenny.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: Although Dr. Asimov's robots aren't strictly masculine, it is nevertheless common for his characters to refer to them as "he" and to give them masculine nicknames. In this story, however, because the LNE prototype isn't even capable of normal conversation, the characters say "it" when talking about Lenny.
  • Killer Robot: U. S. Robots has an alarm for 'Robot out of control'. This story is the first time it is ever used, and at first nobody recognizes what it is for.
  • Meaningful Name: "Lenny" is also the name of the mentally challenged Deuteragonist from Of Mice and Men. Like Lenny, LNE has Does Not Know His Own Strength, is mentally handicapped, and unknowingly breaks inviolable laws.
  • Motherly Scientist: Dr. Calvin is notorious for being detached and unemotional. But in this story, she becomes very attached to Lenny under the pretext of studying his learning capabilities, and the end of the story reveals that she has taught him to call her "Mama".
  • No Antagonist: The conflict in this story is between Lanning (Research Director) and Calvin (Robopsychologist). Lanning is dealing with two problems; the fact that the LNE model has violated the First Law by breaking someone's arm and that they aren't getting enough high-level job applications. Calvin is insistent that Lenny has not violated First Law, and rationalizes her work with the prototype in a way to help Lanning encourage high-level job applications by appealing to people's sense of danger. Once she's left, Bogart points out to Lanning that Calvin is trying to raise the prototype, having taught it to call her "Mama".
  • Robo Speak: Most robots in Dr. Asimov's robot series speak with a mechanical intonation, but when LNE-prototype is manufactured, it is described to speak with "the chimes of a low-pitched celeste". Its beautiful voice shocks the first technician to test its responses. Alfred Lanning wishes they knew how to get the other robots to sound like it, too.
  • Robot Names: The LNE series gains the In-Series Nickname of "Lenny".
  • Secondary Character Title: Lenny, the In-Series Nickname for LNE models, was built for mining boron from asteroids. However, due to an accident during the initial planning, it doesn't work correctly.
  • Three Laws-Compliant: The climax comes from the fact that the Lenny prototype may have actually broken the First Law. It did break a man's arm. Susan argues that because of Lenny's reduced intelligence, it interpreted a minor threat that a more functional robot would have ignored as something that must be responded to under the Second Law, and because Lenny Does Not Know His Own Strength due to that same reduced intelligence, he defended himself more forcefully than necessary.
  • When It All Began: There are weekly tourists that come through the robot-design room, and one of the technicians forgot to lock the keyboard. So when Mortimer, one of the visitors, toyed with the console, it caused a portion of the positronic brain design for the LNE-prototype to be hopelessly jumbled, making it the intellectual equivalent of a newborn baby.
  • Zeerust: The character who gets injured by the LNE-prototype is a computer, meaning a human being employed as part of a team to do complex calculations by hand. Because this story was written in the late 1950s, it also begins to use the word computer to mean an electric machine capable of complex processing.