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In Asimov's "The Inevitable Conflict," from I, Robot, what Byerley (and most likely Asimov) is saying is that conflict once occurred based on one premise: men must have "all or nothing." Byerley tells Susan Calvin:
Consider relatively modern times. There were the series of dynastic wars in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, when the most important question in Europe was whether the houses of Hapsburg or Valois-Bourbon were to rule the continent. It was one of those 'inevitable conflicts,' since Europe could obviously not exist half one and half the other.
Byerley then refers to domination with regard to Europe being Catholic or Protestant.
Half and half she could not be. It was inevitable that the sword decide.
In both situations, Byerley concludes, that what should not have been able to occur, did. Ultimately the Hapsburg or Valois-Bourbon "houses" were both wiped out; and both religions were able to exist without one being more dominant. It was the same with developing industrialism and nationalism.
One of the consistent themes throughout this book is man maintaining power and superiority over Machines—most specifically, robots. All kinds of steps have been taken to guarantee that no robot can harm a human—based on the three laws ("the Three Laws of Robotics"), hard-wired into each robot's positronic brain. The Machine must, at all costs, protect the human. Asimov's stories have not only shown prejudice against the Machines, as well as fear, but the potential for dysfunction on one hand, and heroic deliverance on the other.
However, on earth at that moment, many good things have taken place: there is...
...no unemployment, no overproduction or shortages. Waste and famine are words in the history books.
Here Byerley is concerned that the premise of "all or nothing" is something that could well jeopardize the human race. Humanity moves forward in mining, engineering and construction. However, humanity (in making these forward movements) depends a great deal on robots. Without robots, one is left to wonder if the human race could survive. Byerley says that robots have...
...progressed beyond the possibility of detailed human control.
What he notes in several instances is that the Machines are making small mistakes. If it is not being fed inaccurate information, it should not be possible for the Machines to make mistakes. So Byerley comes back to the idea that his original premise—that two different ideologies, etc., should not be able to exist together, though usually they can. So Byerley assumes the "mistakes" the Machines are making must be because someone is giving the Machines inaccurate data. He notes:
It is a matter of rocking the boat, deliberately.
For if the Machines rule, one group (e.g., the Northerners) cannot take more power than another (e.g., the Tropics) and cause harm to Mankind. He wonders if someone ('The Society for Humanity'?) wants to discredit the Machines; if this happened, Earth would be like a "jungle" again... the way it once was.
Even while humanity advances and regions have all they need, humanity still cannot handle not being the most powerful, the most dominant. The advantages: Earth's inhabitants are fed and employed. Disadvantages: there is still an inherent human desire for supremacy beyond a desire to be satisfied.
Ironically, this shows not that Machines are bad, but that Mankind needs them—for a Machine will not allow humans to be harmed—even if the humans are the cause.
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