This week’s Throw Back Thursday is the influential sci-fi classic I, Robot by Isaac Asimov. It’s a classic for a reason – it is fantastic.
In 2064, Susan Calvin is retiring as chief robo-psychologist for the world’s biggest robot manufacturer. Calvin’s life has been spent learning to understand machines so complex that humans aren’t sure they can be controlled anymore, and now that she’s packing up, she has some stories to tell about some of the wayward robots that have crossed her path.
Calvin’s recollections add up to a kind of History of Robots, but there’s more tucked away in here than that – how can we live with technology that will eventually surpass our own intelligence? Underpinning all of this are Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, which fuel almost every plot:
Asimov looks at the how these laws hold up when theory meets reality, asking questions like, say, “What if robots became so advanced that they thought ‘harm’ meant more than just physical pain, but emotional pain too?” Or, “What if they took human orders too seriously or even too literally?” Each of Calvin’s stories takes these questions and turns them into a kind of mini-detective story, where our task is to find out why the errant robots behave as they do.
Asimov has written an incredibly fun book here, crammed with humour and tenderness, that positively zips along. If there is any shortfall with I, Robot it’s that you’ll find it in the sci-fi section of your local library – it deserves a bigger audience than just us sci-fi fans, and should be alongside all of the other classics.
Highly recommended. If you fancy giving sci-fi a chance, then this is the one I’d recommend.
To get you in the mood, here’s a pair of robot trousers: