Sunday, October 01, 2006

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

When Isaac Asimov wrote the stories in I, Robot, the 21st century was still far in the future. Thoughts about robots and computers and space travel were very speculative. Space stories were published in inexpensive magazines popular with teenage boys and not taken seriously by most of the reading public. Asimov was among the writers to change the face of science fiction.

Over fifty years later, the stories in I, Robot seem a little dated, for it is now obvious that the timetable and sequence of scientific developments is amiss, but they are still very entertaining and thought-provoking. The technical team of Donovan and Powell lend comic relief to a series of nasty predicaments. Robot psychologist Susan Calvin has the deductive powers of Mr. Spock and the understanding of mental states of Counselor Troy (of different generations of Star Trek) combined. The directors of United States Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc. are not above bending the laws to forward corporation profits and power, and they use their influence to obtain military and government contracts. Religious conservatives question the ethics of scientific developments; some even try to sabotage technical progress. It is a bit like now.

What is wrong with the historical sequence? We should by now be ready to colonize Mars. Also, Asimov believed that robots would develop ahead of computers. In fact, computers would be a subset of robots and be required to be programmed to obey The Three Laws of Robotics. Is your laptop programmed (1) to protect you from harm, (2) to obey your orders, and (3) to protect its own existence so long as it still follows the first two laws? Has Microsoft written that program? Late in the 21st century there would be only a few computers called brains and machines, but they would control most human industry and agriculture.

I listened to I, Robot brightly read by Scott Brick. It is a good addition to most audio collections.

Asimov, Isaac. I, Robot. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1950.

7 compact discs: Sana Ana, California: Books on Tape, 2004. ISBN 141590121x

No comments: