I, Robot

Aside from Will Smith staring back at me from the cover of the copy that the Open University supplied me with, this has been very enjoyable.

Vastly superior cover.

You are makeshift. I, on the other hand, am a finished product.

Fairly obviously, I was familiar with Asimov’s work as a whole, and I think you would have to have been living a very ignorant life not to be aware of his three laws of robotics:

  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 the orders given 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.

Now I was sent the book, as previously alluded to, by the OU as part of the course material for one of my last 10 points worth of study which takes the form of T184 – Robotics & the meaning of life: a practical guide to things that think, that whilst strictly being a course from their engineering department, obviously crosses some philosophical borders. The probably all too apparent issues that would arise should robots be given some degree of sentience and autonomy have been covered many times, by many authors, in many mediums (Skynet, anyone? Interestingly the catastrophically self-aware US defence computer system has a real life UK counterpart – Skynet, a military communications system). But it must be stressed that Asimov was arguably the first and the greatest to tackle such issues.

The book itself is a collection of stories published in various science fiction magazines between 1940 and 1950 inclusive, tied together with some additional material to help the flow of the whole. The robots and recurring main characters (comedy duo Donovan and Powell and severe elder stateswoman of US Robotics, Dr Susan Calvin) deal with many of the shortcomings of the Three Laws and the conflicts they could cause in select circumstances in the positronic brains of robots. This includes a robot asking Descartian questions; another who can read minds and appears to be lying, and others yet who simply appear to be disobeying the laws altogether. The book is full of likeable, and instantly recognisable characters – and I mean this in the warmest sense possible, though it may appear a little clichéd some 6o-odd years later.

If you’re looking for the story of Sonny from the film, then I’m afraid you will be disappointed. As I mentioned, my copy has all of the film artwork details and even tagline on the back: ‘One man saw it coming.’ After reading cover to cover, you’d be hard pressed not to ask ‘Which man?’ and indeed, ‘What is this ominous “it” of which you speak?’ for that particular story simply does not exist here. However, what the book will give you is a sense of a man years ahead of his time, asking pertinent questions that are increasingly more applicable to the modern world in which we live, and answering them in his own never flowery but often-entertaining style. (It should be noted that the film does capture some of the spirit of the book, and is not a total whitewash).

In conclusion, a bit of a classic; one that will make you think a little, but does not require a physics degree. All of which made we want to listen to Spoke by I, Parasite. Good song. (This was made largely possible by usage of my girlfriend’s premium Spotify account. I like it, but it needs more selection – no Earth at all!)

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