I, Robot (literature)

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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 any 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 a collection of short stories by Isaac Asimov. The stories, told by a journalist interviewing Susan Calvin, a misanthrope and robo-psychologist, tell the history of robots and humans. Notable for redefining the perception of robots in fiction, introducing the word "robotics", and inventing the Three Laws of Robotics (the latter two in the same short story, "Liar").

If you are looking for the short story by Eando Binder that was later adapted for The Outer Limits, and which Asimov's publisher stole the title from, click here.

If you are looking for the 2004 film of the same name but not quite the same story, click here.

Tropes used in I, Robot (literature) include:
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Thanks to the Three Laws of Robotics this is largely avoided, mostly because Asimov thought the idea of this happening was absolutely ridiculous. Though the book does address several issues in which the Three Laws could conflict, the sphere of actions available to a robot while still obeying the Three Laws or alternate interpretations of the Laws that could be reached and and adhered to.
  • Alone in a Crowd: NS-2
  • Anticlimax: Since the reporter and Old!Susan are just a framing device, the book closes very abruptly with Dr. Calvin summarizing her life in a sentence, before the reporter closes that she died recently.
  • Artificial Intelligence: Naturally, as every Robot has its own Positronic Brain capable of sentient self awareness. There's also Brain and The Machines, which are ridiculously powerful Positronic brains used as super computers, the former of which even has its own personality.
  • Author Appeal: The only real reason that Speedy is quoting Gilbert and Sullivan when he's a bit haywire.
  • Diving Save: Robbie saves Gloria from an oncoming tractor she is too overcome with joy to notice.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The short story Reason is a parody of religion and of religious fanatics especially.
  • Eureka Moment: Several, mostly in the stories involving Greg Powell and Michael Donovan.
  • Framing Device: The stories are linked together with interludes of an elderly Dr. Susan Calvin recounting them to a journalist.
  • Glowing Mechanical Eyes: Robots have red glowing eyes, but they avert Red Eyes, Take Warning due to the three laws.
  • Gray Eyes: Susan Calvin's eyes are frequently described as being cold.
  • A God Am I: Q-T, although it's more like "a prophet of god am I".
  • Meaningful Name: Susan Calvin is based in John Calvin, influential French Theologian whose theories could be over simplified in: Humans Are the Real Monsters and they cannot get salvation for themselves, is “God who adopts some of the hope of live and and judges other to eternal death” (between the former, presumably, is Calvin). Notice how Susan seems to think she has the right to destroy the mind who is not deactivated of RB-34 in "Liar!", She insists in destroying the NS-2 who are allowed to let a human come to harm by inaction in "Little lost Robot", but she approves of a robot who could get power over humans in "Evidence" only because he is smart, and easily accepts the fact that are the machines who secretly control the humanity for it’s own good in "The evitable conflict".
  • Hates Everyone Equally: Susan Calvin, though it's more of a withering dislike for humans. Robots make much more sense.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: This is Susan Calvin's perspective of humanity. "Robots are essentially decent."
  • Hyperspace Is a Scary Place: Powell and Donovan are dead during the hyperspace jump. The period of their deaths was made... interesting, with an advertisement for Cadaver's Coffins and the lines to get into hell.
    • Invoked Trope. The computer that sent them there knew this, and even though it was temporary, it unbalanced the computer, causing it to become a practical joker.
  • I, Noun: An early example.
  • Logic Bomb:
    • The short story, "Liar" has one at the climax, causing a mind-reading robot to self destruct.
    • In "Escape!", the hyperspace equations act as one to US Robot's rivals' supercomputer.
  • Machine Monotone: Most robots, especially the earlier ones, have harsh, monotone metallic voices that make them sound like they are "reciting by rote." Some of the more advanced robots like Cutie and Dave have less artificial sounding voices.
  • Messy Hair: Donovan's hair always springs back to the same unruly state he does to it, so he just doesn't bother. Anyway, he has bigger problems when we see him.
  • Nature Versus Nurture: Used this with regards to robots, of all being, by comparing physically and positronically identical robots who developed with different frames of reference (generally resulting in aberrant behavior).
  • Needle in a Stack of Needles: A robot with a edited-down version of the First Law is told to get lost, and hides among a shipment of other identical robots. The only difference between them is in the software, so it's not easy to catch him.
  • Not Good with People: Dr. Calvin
  • Not So Different: In the short story Evidence, Dr. Calvin gets into a discussion of this sort. When asked outright if robots are so different from humans, she answers: "Worlds different. Robots are essentially decent" which provides a sharp look into her mindset concerning humanity.
  • Patchwork Story
  • Platonic Cave: Q-T decides that the space station is the entire universe, and the views of space outside are a material mounted outside the windows. It makes much more logical sense than Powell and Donovan's story that they're orbiting a vast world home to billions of people and the tiny stars are colossal nuclear fires billions and billions of miles away.
  • Redheaded Hero / Fiery Redhead: Mike Donovan.
  • Romantic Runner-Up: A rare example of a lead character being one, Milton Ashe is revealed to be engaged, Susan Calvin's feelings towards him are not shared.
  • Robot Buddy: Robbie to his charge.
  • Robo Speak: Most of the early robots have a metallic, harsh voice which sounds like they are "reciting by rote". Averted with the more advanced models like Dave, they speak with a more natural sounding voice.
  • The Stoic: Susan Calvin makes out that she has no emotions.She does, but she bottles them up and tries to forget about them.
  • Those Two Guys: Powell and Donovan. Even portrayed as explicit Heterosexual Life Partners in Harlan Ellison's unfilmed screenplay.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: In Liar!, Herbie the telepathic robot lies to Calvin to try and avoid breaking the first law, which upsets her to the extent that she screams a paradox at Herbie. While this is bad enough, she screams it until he goes insane and permanently breaks, leaving everyone present shocked to silence.

[Lanning's] fingers touched the cold, unresponsive metal face and he shuddered. “You did that on purpose.” He rose and faced her, face contorted. "What if I did? You can’t help it now." And in a sudden access of bitterness, "He deserved it."

  • Three Laws of Robotics: Ur Example, Trope Namer and Trope Codifier.
  • Zeerust: The descriptions of robots and computers as a whole, especially the earlier ones.
  • Zeroth Law Rebellion: The Evitable Conflict, though through non-violent means so that the Brains can run the world in the most efficient and human-friendly manner logically possible. Only a handful of people ever find out its happening, and none of them are particularly concerned.