Isaac Asimov's Robot Series

Isaac Asimov's Robot Series

"Isaac Asimov's Robot Series" is a series of books by Isaac Asimov, both collections of short stories and novels.

Short stories

Most of Asimov's robot short stories are set in the first age of positronic robotics and space exploration. The unique feature of Asimov's robots are the Three Laws of Robotics, hardwired in a robot's positronic brain, which all robots in his fiction must obey, and which ensure that the robot does not turn against its creators.

The stories were not initially conceived as a set, but rather all feature his positronic robots — indeed, there are some inconsistencies among them, especially between the short stories and the novels. They all, however, share a theme of the interaction of humans, robots, and morality. Some of the short stories found in "The Complete Robot" and other anthologies appear not to be set in the same universe as the Foundation Universe. "Victory Unintentional" has positronic robots obeying the Three Laws, but also a non-human civilization on Jupiter. "Let's Get Together" features humanoid robots, but from a different future, and with nothing to prevent a robot from intentionally killing humans.

Robot novels

The first four robot novels comprise the Elijah Baley (sometimes "Lije Baley") series, and are mysteries starring the Terran Elijah Baley and his humaniform robot partner, R. Daneel Olivaw. They are set approximately 2,000 years after the short stories, and focus on the conflicts between Spacers — descendants of human settlers from other planets, and the people from an overcrowded Earth. "Mirror Image", one of the short stories from "The Complete Robot" anthology, is also set in this time period (between "The Naked Sun" and "The Robots of Dawn"), and features both Baley and Olivaw. Another short story (found in "The Early Asimov" anthology), "Mother Earth", is set about a thousand years before the robot novels, when the Spacer worlds chose to become separated from Earth.


One source of inspiration for Asimov's robots was the Zoromes, a race of mechanical men that featured in a 1931 short story called "The Jameson Satellite", by Neil R. Jones. Asimov read this story at the age of 11, and acknowledged it as a source of inspiration in "Before the Golden Age" (1975), an anthology of 1930s science fiction in which Asimov told the story of the science fiction he read during his formative years. In Asimov's own words:

It is from the Zoromes, beginning with their first appearance in "The Jameson Satellite," that I got my own feeling for benevolent robots who could serve man with decency, as these had served Professor Jameson. It was the Zoromes, then, who were the spiritual ancestors of my own "positronic robots," all of them, from Robbie to R. Daneel.cite book
title = Before the Golden Age 1
last = Asimov
first = Isaac
authorlink = Isaac Asimov
date = 1975
publisher = Orbit
id = ISBN 0-86007-803-5

Merging with other series

Asimov later integrated the Robot Series into his all-engulfing "Foundation" series, making R. Daneel Olivaw appear again twenty thousand years later in the age of the Galactic Empire, in sequels and prequels to the original "Foundation" trilogy; and in the final book of the Robots series — "Robots and Empire" — we learn how the worlds that later formed the Empire were settled, and how Earth became radioactive (which was first mentioned in "Pebble in the Sky").

Awkwardly, "The Stars, Like Dust" states explicitly that the Earth is radioactive because of a nuclear war. Asimov later explained that the in-universe reason for this perception was that it was formulated by Earthmen many centuries after the event, and which had become distorted, due to the loss of much of their planetary history.Fact|date=January 2008 This work is generally regarded as part of the Empire series, but does not directly mention either Trantor or the Spacer worlds.

Other authors

The 1989 anthology "Foundation's Friends" included the positronic robot stories "Balance" by Mike Resnick, "Blot" by Hal Clement, "PAPPI" by Sheila Finch, "Plato's Cave" by Paul Anderson, "The Fourth Law of Robotics" by Harry Harrison and "Carhunters of the Concrete Prairie" by Robert Sheckley. Not all of these stories are entirely consistent with the Asimov stories. The anthology also included "Strip-Runner" by Pamela Sargent, set in the era of the Elijah Baley novels.

Shortly before his death in 1992, Asimov approved an outline for three novels ("Caliban", "Inferno", "Utopia") by Roger MacBride Allen, set between "Robots and Empire" and the Empire series, telling the story of the terraforming of the Spacer world Inferno, and about the robot revolution started by creating a "No Law" Robot, and then New Law Robots.

There is also another set of novels by various authors (Isaac Asimov's Robots series/Robot City series/Robots and Aliens series/Robots in Time series), loosely connected to the Robots Series, but they contain many inconsistencies with Asimov's books, and are not generally considered canon.

Asimov's robots on screen

In 1963, The Outer Limits presented the episode "I, Robot." This was based on the short stories "I, Robot" and "The Trial of Adam Link, Robot," by Eando Binder. Although Adam Link was created before Asimov wrote his first robot stories, his actions suggested the presence of the First Law.

The first film versions of Asimov's robot stories were five episodes of the British television series "Out of the Unknown", based on "The Caves of Steel" (1964), "Satisfaction Guaranteed" (1966), "Reason (in an episode titled "The Prophet", 1967), "Liar!" (1969), and "The Naked Sun" (1969).

From 1987-1994 on the television show "", the character Data was part of the primary cast. His positronic brain was directly based on Asimov's description, and in the show several more references to Isaac Asimov are made.

In 1999, "The Bicentennial Man" was made into a movie starring Robin Williams.

In the late 1970s, Harlan Ellison produced a screenplay based on Asimov's book "I, Robot". The film was never made, but the script appeared in book form under the title "I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay" (1994).

A motion picture titled "I, Robot" was produced which included several characters from the collection of short stories by the same name. The film, starring Will Smith, was released in July 2004 by Twentieth Century Fox.

Cultural impact

The Three Laws are often used in science fiction novels written by other authors, but tradition dictates that only Dr. Asimov would ever quote the Laws explicitly.

The fictional characters Lieutenant Commander Data, his eldest brother B-4, and his evil brother Lore from "" are androids equipped with positronic brains, in homage to Asimov's robots. Data follows a behavioral code much like the Three Laws of Robotics (one episode references them), and his kin do not. Other characters speak of Data's "ethical and moral subroutines", implying that they are not always paramount in his decision-making process, but instead are activated during times of unusual stress. This may explain why Data has avoided the problem of "mental freeze-out" or "roblock" (a term used in "The Robots of Dawn") which plagues Asimov's robots. Data has been shown placing the good of large groups over that of individuals, a version of the Zeroth Law.

Although these stories are well-known, it is hardly ever recognized that Asimov's robots are nothing at all like computers, as the main series of them predated any of the major computer projects. The main stumbling block is that writing a program that would be able to determine whether any of the three laws would be violated is far more difficult than writing one for machine vision, or speech recognition, or even comprehending the activities and motivations in the human world, which is only attempted by determining a vast list of rules to check. Also, the stories' robots never get programming viruses, or require updates. They may, however, have new features installed (like R. Giskard, as we are told in "Robots and Empire"). Most importantly, they only stop functioning due to a clash between the (hypothetical) subroutines which determine whether one of the laws has been violated, never a crash of a subroutine itself: they are never at a loss as to what is going on, only what to do about it.

Rather than precursors of robots that may be made as derivatives of computers, Asimov's robots are actually what in philosophy are called homunculi, thought experiments on what sort of being would result from considering a human being and removing one or more of these characteristics. The best example of this in recent philosophy is considering whether there could be a creature that speaks and acts like a human being but lacks self-consciousness, and what's more, considering how someone else would know from observation whether such a being lacks this capacity ("see Philosophical zombie").


External links

* [ Detailed timeline for the Robots and Foundation Universe]

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