Infobox Short story
name = Runaround
author = Isaac Asimov
country = United States
language = English
series = Robot Series
genre = Science fiction short story
publication_type = Periodical
published_in = "Astounding Science Fiction"
publisher = Street & Smith
media_type = Print (magazine, hardback, paperback)
pub_date = March 1942
preceded_by = First Law
followed_by = Reason

"Runaround" is a science fiction short story by Isaac Asimov, featuring his recurring characters Powell and Donovan. It was written in October 1941 and first published in the March 1942 issue of "Astounding Science Fiction". It appears in the collections "I, Robot" (1950), "The Complete Robot" (1982), and "Robot Visions" (1990).

In common with many of Asimov's robot stories, the application of the Three Laws of Robotics is the subject, though in contrast to the majority (in which the lexical ambiguities of the Laws are employed to fashion a dilemma), the robot featured in "Runaround" is actually following the Laws as they were intended.

"Runaround" is notable for featuring the first explicit appearance of the Three Laws of Robotics, which had hitherto only been implied in Asimov's robot stories.

Plot summary

In 2015, Powell, Donovan and Robot SPD-13 (aka "Speedy") are sent to Mercury to restart operations at a mining station which was abandoned ten years before.

They discover that the photo-cell banks that provide life support to the base are short on selenium and will soon fail. The nearest selenium pool is seventeen miles away, and since Speedy can withstand Mercury’s high temperatures, Donovan sends him to get it. Powell and Donovan become worried when they realize that Speedy has not returned after five hours. They use a more primitive robot to retrieve Speedy and try to analyze what happened to it.

When they eventually find Speedy, they discover he is running in a huge circle around a selenium pool. Further, they notice that "Speedy’s gait [includes] a peculiar rolling stagger, a noticeable side-to-side lurch".Isaac Asimov, "I, Robot," New York: Doubleday & Company, 1950.] When Speedy is asked to return with the selenium, he begins talking oddly ("Hot dog, let’s play games. You catch me and I catch you; no love can cut our knife in two" and quoting Gilbert and Sullivan). Speedy continues to show symptoms that, if he were human, would be interpreted as drunkenness.

Powell eventually realizes that the selenium source contains some sort of unexpected danger to the robot. Under normal circumstances, Speedy would observe the Second Law ("a robot must obey orders"), but, because Speedy was so expensive to manufacture and "not a thing to be lightly destroyed", the Third Law ("a robot must protect its own existence") had been strengthened "so that his allergy to danger is unusually high". As the order to retrieve the selenium was casually worded with no particular emphasis, Speedy cannot decide whether to obey it (Second Law) or protect himself from danger (the strengthened Third Law). As a compromise, he circles the selenium until the harsh conditions and conflicting Laws damage him to the point that he has started acting inebriated.

Attempts to order Speedy to return (Second Law) fail, as the conflicted positronic brain cannot accept new orders. Attempts to change the danger to the robot (Third Law) merely cause Speedy to change routes until he finds a new avoid-danger/follow-order equilibrium.

Of course, the only thing that trumps "both" the Second and Third Laws is the First Law of Robotics ("a robot may not...allow a human being to come to harm"). Therefore, Powell decides to risk his life by going out in the heat, hoping that the First Law will force Speedy to overcome his cognitive dissonance and save his life. The plan eventually works, and the team is able to repair the photo-cell banks.


before = "Robbie"
included1 = The Complete Robot
included2 = I, Robot
series1 = Robot Series
series2 =
next = "Reason"

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • runaround — ► NOUN informal 1) (the runaround) evasive treatment. 2) a runabout …   English terms dictionary

  • runaround — [run′ə round΄] n. ☆ 1. Informal a series of evasive excuses, deceptions, delays, etc.: usually in get (or give) the runaround 2. Printing an arrangement of type in shorter lines than the rest of the text, as around an illustration …   English World dictionary

  • Runaround — Run a*round , n. a delaying or evasive, and sometimes deceptive, answer to an inquiry or request. [PJC] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • runaround — (n.) deceptive, evasive treatment, 1915, from RUN (Cf. run) (v.) + around. The verbal phrase run around to associate (with) is from 1887 …   Etymology dictionary

  • runaround — UK [ˈrʌnəˌraʊnd] / US noun Word forms runaround : singular runaround plural runarounds give someone the runaround …   English dictionary

  • runaround — n. (colloq.) delaying action to give smb. the runaround * * * [ rʌnəˌraʊnd] (colloq.) [ delaying action ] to give smb. the runaround …   Combinatory dictionary

  • runaround — run|a|round [ˈrʌnəˌraund] n give sb the runaround informal to deliberately avoid giving someone a definite answer, especially when they are asking you to do something ▪ Every time we ask the landlord about fixing the roof, he gives us the… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • runaround — run|a|round [ rʌnə,raund ] noun give someone the runaround INFORMAL to deliberately behave in a way that is not helpful: When I asked about the money she gave me the runaround …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • runaround — n. a wild goose chase. (Especially with give, as in the example.) □ The IRS gave us the runaround when we asked for a review. □ The customer will never get a runaround at my store! …   Dictionary of American slang and colloquial expressions

  • runaround — noun Date: 1915 1. deceptive or delaying action especially in response to a request < tired of getting the runaround > 2. matter typeset in shortened measure to run around something (as a cut) …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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