A long time ago I read a short story by Isaac Asimov called “The Last Question” that totally blew my mind. But I’d mostly forgotten about Asimov until my editor mentioned this book to me (it was your suggestion, right, Jim?) since Uncanny Valley is on a very similar topic. Jim even had me write in a reference in Uncanny Valley to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, which form the foundation for all of the short stories comprised in I, Robot. The laws are:
1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2) A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
The short stories are all linked by a single main character, Susan Calvin: she was born in 1982 (which caught my attention because so was I), and she becomes a very prominent robopsychologist (psychologist of robots) later in her life. The stories span the decades of her life, and each iteration of robots in their various stages of advancement. Each story follows a particular robot in a given circumstance, and how its behavior must be explained based on the three laws. It’s not really a page-turner because the stories were all discrete and there wasn’t a great deal of time for characterization—but I loved the ideas, because they are similar to those in which I’ve immersed myself for the last year in researching the Uncanny Valley trilogy. Asimov’s writing is so elegant: he takes space opera type scenarios (such as humans stranded on Mercury with a robot, trying to use the three laws of robotics to manipulate it into doing what they want) and manages to explain exactly why things occur as they do in the context of the world he’s created. It’s worth reading just for that.
My rating: ****
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