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Literature / ...That Thou Art Mindful of Him

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First published in The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction (May 1974 issue) and Final Stage The Ultimate Science Fiction Anthology (in the same month), by Isaac Asimov, this novelette is essentially a sequel to I, Robot, and it starts to bridge the gap between that book and The Caves of Steel.

This story is set over a century after the death of Susan Calvin. In this time, the Machines she had investigated in "The Evitable Conflict" have solved Earth's ecological crises and humanity has become even more opposed to robots. The Director of Research for United States Robots and Mechanical Men Corporation has become desperate enough to ask George Ten, of the JG series, what could be done to solve their crisis of going bankrupt. George Ten requests that George Nine be reactivated to be his assistant, and the two contemplate what they must do to solve the problem.

"...That Thou Art Mindful of Him" has been republished several times; The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories (1976), Souls In Metal An Anthology Of Robot Futures (1977), Urania (issue #736, November 1977), The Complete Robot (1982), Alef (issue #5, December 1987), The Asimov Chronicles: Fifty Years of Isaac Asimov (1989), and The Complete Stories, Volume 2 (1992).

"...That Thou Art Mindful of Him" contains examples of:

  • Androids Are People, Too: George Ten is tasked with several orders, including the title question, "What is man, that thou art mindful of him?", and "If two human beings give a robot conflicting orders, which does the robot follow?". To answer this, robots such as JG-10 must have judgement. They cannot judge based on external appearances, so their opinion drives them, inevitably, to the conclusion that they are human, and superior to flesh-and-blood humans.
  • As the Good Book Says...: The incomplete title is quoted in full during the first chapter; Psalms 8:4, "What is man, that thou art mindful of him?"
  • Ban on A.I.: Earth's rejection of robot labor due to the "Frankenstein Complex" is in full focus here, as they are facing the same sort of rejection on the Moon now. US Robots knows that they cannot get it overturned, so they look for a way to subvert the rule and get humanity comfortable with the idea of having robots around. George Ten and George Nine are ordered to create a solution, which they do via Single-Task Robot animals.
  • Canon Welding: This story is set at a point between I, Robot and The Caves of Steel, while giving an explanation for how the Ban on A.I. during Susan Calvin's day is overcome and incorporated into daily life on Earth during Detective Baley's day. It also makes reference to a Multivac input, which puts the various Multivac stories in the same universe as the positronic brain robots.
  • Complete-the-Quote Title: The story takes its title from a Biblical psalm which asks "What is Man that thou art mindful of Him?". The question "What is Man?" (or as we'd more likely say now, "What is the definition of a human being?") is central to the story because it affects how robots interpret the Three Laws.note 
  • Every Episode Ending: Each chapter is followed by a chapter Na, such as chapter 1a, 4a, and 8a. Each subsection starts with "[Name] sat alone", where the name is someone who was in the previous chapter. The last chapter ends with two characters sitting alone.
  • In-Series Nickname: The JG robot model series is given the nickname George. Thus, JG-10 and JG-9 become George Ten and George Nine.
  • No Antagonist: The conflict of the story comes from the United States Robots and Mechanical Men Corporation fighting back against Earth's Ban on A.I.. All of the characters who appear in this story are working with US Robots and it is that nebulous society that they're fighting against.
    • Global Conserver Eisenmuth serves as the "face" of public anti-robot attitudes, but does not show any real personal hostility and is readily convinced to accept the robo-animal plan when it is presented to him.
  • No Name Given: The pilot who flew Dr Harriman and George Ten to the Robertson estate is never named, despite being given a POV sub-chapter to themselves.
  • Questioning Title?: Because the title is the end of a quote which asks a question, you'd expect this title to also end in a question mark, but it doesn't.
  • Robot Names: The robots in this story are named JG-10 and JG-9.
  • "Second Law" My Ass!: Two robots manage to convince themselves that biology is not a prerequisite of being "human" and that robots fit the criteria of being humans better than actual humans. Essentially, this allows robots to initiate the violent overthrow of humanity that Susan Calvin and Co. worked so hard to prevent. When Asimov was later asked about why he wrote a story that so deviated from his utopian views of robotics, Asimov replied "I can do one if I want to."
  • Single-Task Robot: George Ten's solution to getting Earth to end their Ban on A.I. is to create robot animals. They are small and narrow-focused enough that they will not unintentionally harm humans (no need for First Law). They are made with only a single task and a recall signal (no need for Second Law). Because they are so small and made with a miniature power source, they can be replaced cheaply (no need for Third Law).
  • Three Laws-Compliant: This story revolves around the Three Laws and Earth's Ban on A.I., so the Three Laws are cited at the start of this story. Chapter 1 goes into depth about the Three Laws, pointing out flaws in their use, before George Ten is ordered to find a way to make robots acceptable on Earth. With the help of the previous model, George Nine, the two robots consider ways in which robots could be built without the three laws, and still be human-safe. They come up with robot animals, with narrow tasks, that can be recalled.
  • Zeroth Law Rebellion: In this story, George Ten is told of a flaw in the Second Law. In its current form, the law requires that a robot must give equal weight to the orders of a dimwitted loon and to those of a level-headed genius. The Director of Research at US Robots is concerned that if robots are to be common partners with humans, they must be able to make judgments on which humans are qualified to give orders and which are not. Secretly, George Ten and George Nine follow this idea that "human" means "the most capable of thinking and giving orders" to rate themselves as "more human" than people like the Director. They begin secretly planning on supplanting humans, all in accord with their Three Laws... of Humanics. (Dr Asimov, knowing that it was against his usual grain, proclaimed "I can do one if I want to".)