When most people hear I, Robot they think of Will Smith and the movie. And how bad they generally think it is. But most forget that this movie is based on the world of the same titled book by Isaac Asimov. The book was first released in 1950, and while some of the then future dating might have been ambitious in relation to robotics, I still think there are some truths in it towards today and future societies. Perhaps not as big as Asimov pictured it though.
You might wonder why I am all of a sudden telling you about I, Robot. Every year in October and November there is a focus on reading called Netherlands Reads (Nederland Leest). As you might expect this is to promote reading more in the Netherlands. This year the theme is Robotics. During November you could pick up a free translated copy of I, Robot in exchange for giving your opinion on the topic of I, Robot. Online, through a questionaire in the library or at one of the debate evenings organised in your city or town. Of course I could not pass that up. Asimov is an author I’ve heard a lot about but had never read a book of. Robotics is something that is going to come up more and more.
The 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 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.
I, Robot is partially set into our future and focuses somewhat on Susan Calvin’s experiences and heresay with robots throughout her life. As a robot psychologist she’s had an unique look on the growth of robots in our society. Through an interview she tells 9 stories, ranging from stories that were told to her to stories where she was front and center.
When I got it I immediately read it and finished it in one sitting. I think this tells you something about how captivating this book is. To be honest, I thought that I would struggle to read it a bit. This book being from the 1950’s and a highly praised male author generally doesn’t bode to well for me. However surprisingly there is such an ease to the writing. It flows incredibly well and if you would say it was written in these days I would almost believe you. I also think the Dutch translation of this book was very well done.
Another thing that struck me was how well I took to some of the characters. While there are nine short stories in there there are returning characters throughout the book. The presence of Donovan and Powell especially was a breath of fresh air. They were funny and their interaction broke some of the moments where you would wonder how you would feel or what you would do. It eased some of the heaviness without taking away from it clearly.
In my special copy there is also an extra story, set after the ninth story. This story was written by Asibot under guidance of Ronald Giphart, a Dutch author. To me this felt unneccesary and didn’t add much.
Would I Leave My Son in the Care of a Robot?
One of the questions for this theme on the folder was if robots will take over our world but that certainly wasn’t initially what sprung to my mind as I read this book. Of course the ending of the book is what most will discuss. But not what initially stuck with me after finishing this book.
The first story is about a robot named Robbie who is a nanny to a young girl. He can’t speak but can convey certain things through actions and even attempts at facial expressions. Her mother is not pleased with having a robot taking care of her daughter and arranges for the robot to be taking away. This story stuck with me the most because it comes closest to my own situation.
As a mother to a now almost 15 month old son I asked myself the question: ‘Would I leave my son in the care of a robot?’ My automatic response was no, never. How could a piece of metal offer my son more than what a person of flesh and blood could?
As I continued to read the book though I felt some nuances coming through in my answer. Of course I am answering from a perspective where there are no robots that could even come close to functioning as this Robbie. How would I feel if I grew up with robots all around me? Where robots could never hurt me? Where the robot would become a part of the family? Where robots could come close to functioning as a human?
In the End
The last story, the ninth one, was one I had to read twice and it took a while for me to wrap my head around. But once it did land, a few days later, it was amazing to see how Asimov build up to it through the other stories, even if the last story wasn’t written quite as spectaculary as the other eight. And this book, 0.1 to his Robot series, has me really intrigued to the other robot books he has written.
Would you leave your (future) child in the care of a robot? Could you imagine having robots in your every day to day life? Do you think they could take over the world?
Book: I, Robot (Robot 0,1) by Isaac Asimov
Release Date: December 2nd 1950
Tags: Science Fiction / Sci-Fi / Robots / Robotics / Short Stories / Classics / Adult
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars