Human Opposition of Robots in I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
Artificial intelligence also known as AI allows a machine to function as if the machine has the capacity to think like a human. While we are not expecting any hovering cars anytime soon, artificial intelligence is projected to have a huge impact on labour force and will likely replace half the workforce in decades to come.
As many people know, science fiction novels are usually too extreme when they talk about the future, such as alien invasions. “I, Robot” written by Issac Asimov is rather a compilation of short stories that is focused on many things, but most of them are about robots and the humans’ opposition against them. Events occurring in this compilation can be connected to real life. Many examples are in this book. Each story in the book was published independently in different publications of science fiction in the 1950’s the sections are sewed together with Dr. Susan Calvin framing the story. In Chapter 2 of the book “Runaround,” set in 2015, two recurring characters, scientists Powell and Donovan, are sent to Mercury to re-establish long-abandoned mining operations on the planet. This story introduces Asimov’s famous Three Laws of Robotics:
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
As the amount of robots increase so does their technological malfunction, In the book it is shown that being persistence and making choices after analysing the problem leads one to find an effective solution. In most of the part of the book, Susan Calvin, Powell and Donovan analyse the problem before making decisions, because of which every technological problem or malfunction that occurred tends to be fixed.
In chapter 2 ‘Runaround’ a robot, Speedy, begins to malfunction due to a conflict between laws 2 and 3. Sent to bring back selenium, Speedy gets caught in a loop, as proximity to the necessary element is a danger to its well being. Two recurring characters in the book Mike Donvan and Greg Powell had to find a way to get him back as soon as they can. After thinking and analysing the problem for quite a while Powell thought of an idea that could resolve the “malfunction” that was occurring with speedy. All we need to do to drive him out of his rut is to increase the concentration of carbon monoxide in his vicinity”, (Asimov 48) said Powell as he was able to overcome the feedback loop by risking his life in venturing out into the inhospitable conditions, while throwing oxalic acid at his raising the concentration of carbon monoxide and causing Speedy to escape the loop in order to save his life.
“They must obey human orders, they must protect their own existence” these two laws conflicted with each other as going near selenium would harm speedy and not going would break first law as speedy would not be obeying his masters order. By risking his life powell used the first law to his benefit by stepping in the danger, As for the first law robots are supposed to save human beings and should not let human beings to come to harm because of which confused and lost speedy comes to save Powell which results in speedy returning back to Donovan and Powell.
Like Powell, Asimov had to make various choices in his life, he had to choose if he would give divorce his wife or not, quit his job as a bio-engineer and pursue a career as a writer or keep the job he has as a bio-engineer, serve in the war or not, even after being a writer he still had to make the decision of whether he wanted to publish the story or not. Asimov was an intelligent person he was a bio-engineer, he served in war, he was politically involved and used to give public speeches despite that he published 500 full length books and over 90,000 letters. He was also a little hard to understand as he considered himself as a feminist inspite of his unhealthy realtionship with his wife and daughter and although he wrote hundreds of books he didn’t publish all of them. Asimov was involved in a lot of things and he had to make a lot of decisions in his life which reflects throughout his book “I, Robot” in fact there are many instances in the book where Powell, Donovan and Susan make severe decisions and have to think critically before trying to face the problem all by themselves.
It is a shared truth that humans often tend to think of robots as nothing more than computer machines made of objects like metal, plastic, silicone and computer chips. However, in truth, a robot’s general purpose is more complex than some know. In order for a robot to function, it must carry out a set of arithmetic or logical operations, and programming the specs is a difficult task that could take years to finish depending on the purpose of the robot. In chapter 6 of the book “I, Robot” “Little Lost Robot”, Susan and Peter Bogert are brought to a secret military base to find an unstable robot who has an altered version of first law and have been ordered by an upset scientist to get lost. “And among it, you told him to lose himself”, (Asimov, 149).
Because of which the robot tries to run away and attempt various techniques in order to hide from the scientist. As the robots are programmed so that they follow their “masters” command, the robot tries to hide from his master by staying in a place where robots new are kept and he tries various brainwashing and manipulation techniques to the robot to make them believe he is the part of the newly placed robots. Asimov served in WWII for 9 months and he also worked as a civilian in WWI for 3 years, he was also a public speaker in all of these times giving and listening to command was a necessity, While Asimov was serving in the war he had to listen to the commands given by his general and he had to do exactly what they said likewise in the story we can see how robots act as soldiers and scientists act as commanders or generals who give commands and the robots do whatever the commanders tell them to do.
For many of us, mind reading is associated with the word ‘telepathy’. All of us have dreamt of being able to read others mind at least once in a lifetime. In one of the chapters of the book “Liar” a robot is created unknowingly who can read minds. “It reads minds all right- damn little doubt about that! But Why?” (Asmiov, 111). Herbie is created with the unintentional ability to read minds and since robots are not supposed to harm human beings in any was herbie tells people lies, he tells people what they want to hear instead of the truth. Infact Herbie says Susan that a cute guy likes her, while Herbie tells Peter Bogert, who wants a promotion that he’s going to get it. As the robot’s lies were different for each person Calvin soon figures out that Herbie is only telling people what they want to hear instead of the truth.
Asimov being a public speaker and a politically involved person in learned that lying to the citizens and telling what they want was common how people were using interrogation to know what information their enemy was hiding from. Being a public speaker and someone who was into politics manu politicians in mid 40’s were caught lying to their citizens as they did not fulfill their promises made to the citizens. In Fact in one of Asimov’s short stories, In a Good Cause (1951), he explored the idea that political strength could lie not in unity but in disunity. He believed that politicians lied to people because most of their followers would not like the truth. Most of the times lies are told when one does not want to hurt others with the truth both in the story and in real life Herbie and the politicians tell lies as they don’t want to hurt others which ends up hurting them even more.
People become more reliant in technologies everyday. The book shows this with human dependence on the robots that they use for everything including mining, as a pilot or as a nanny.
In most of the stories in the book a technological malfunction occurs to the robots, in “Runaround” speedy gets confused and lost, In the chapter “Little lost robot” Ns-2 tries to hide and even brain washes other robots, In “Reason” Cutie thinks it was made by the earth and not the humans and so on… despite all the technological malfunction and the trouble that the robots cause Calvin, Powell and Donovan always stay persistent and analyse the problem before solving the problem which leads to them finding an effective solution to solve the malfunctioning.
This leads to the logical question the audience has to answer: “at what point does artificial intelligence cease to be artificial and true consciousness arise?”. Moreover, it is not less important to realize the consequences of such a shift in the machines created due to the most sophisticated technologies mankind possesses.
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