Isaac Asimov?s I, Robot, published in 1950, is the first in
his Robot series of novels. Asimov, the grandfather of
speculative fiction, begins his novel in the late 20th
century and ends it in the mid-21st-century. A collection of
chronological short stories dealing with the development of
robots on Earth makes up the structure of the novel. A
journalist interviewing Dr. Susan Calvin, a psychologist who
specializes in robots, provides the framework. Each tale
deals with the moral and ethical challenges presented by
having an increasingly more human robot population serve as
workers for humans.
Throughout the book, the human aspects of the problems are
in the forefront while the technical aspects serve as
springboards for well-dramatized philosophical discussions
about such topics as anti-technological prejudice, slavery,
and the best way to achieve world peace.
Several of the stories pose the question of what happens
when one group creates an entity that is physically and in
some ways intellectually superior, but continues to treat
them as inferiors. In one episode, one robot sees himself as
a Jesus Christ-like figure bringing the word of God to the
other robots and refuses to believe that inferior humans
created him. Asimov deals with this dilemma quite
I, Robot is as modern as this morning?s newspaper detailing
the displacement of human workers by computer technology or
discussing the controversies surrounding stem cell research.
However, one can smell the Bryl Cream, a popular fifties
men?s hair cream which tamed unruly hair into conformity, in
the interactions between the human characters.
The only main female character, Dr. Susan Calvin, is
depicted as one of the first professionals of her era.
Because of Dr. Calvin?s analytical and dispassionate
personality, some of the robots appear more human than she
does. Asimov allows her to have feelings for a colleague in
one tale about a telepathic robot, but the situation blows
up in her face. Another instance of this fifties flavor, is
the absence of profanity. Grown men get angry and say the
equivalent of ?Gee Willikers!? or curse offstage.
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov poses questions that we are
grappling with today and is worth reading. His
tale-upon-tale format makes the moral and ethical dilemmas
posed by the creation of increasingly human-like robot
workers not only engaging reading, but also sparks lively
discussions after the last page has been turned.