In Isaac Asminov's "Runaround" in his book I, Robot, how do Speedy’s responses to Donovan and Powell demonstrate the advantages and limitations of implementing new technology for real-world use?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Asminov's I-Robot, the chapter entitled, "Runaround," takes place on Mars. Two men (Donovan and Powell—"industrial troubleshooters") on an exploratory mission have recently landed on Mars and need selenium from the planet's surface to keep the shields up to protect them from Mars' dangerously hot sun. Speedy, the robot sent to get the selenium, has been gone for hours, and by plotting its course, it seems it is traveling in circles. If it does not return, the men will die. Using old robots left on the station from the First Expedition, they are able to travel a short distance on the surface to try to retrieve Speedy. The robot is their only chance at survival. Donovan and Powell call to it and Speedy's response is:

Hot dog, let's play games. You catch me and I catch you; no love can cut our knife in two. For I'm Little Buttercup, sweet Little Buttercup. Whoops!...There grew a little flower 'neath a great oak tree...

Donovan notes that Speedy is repeating lines from Gilbert and Sullivan, writers of "comic opera" in the 19th Century.

With this bit of the story and Speedy's remark, the reader realizes that while Speedy can accomplish difficult work that the men can not, it is also in possession of information that goes beyond the robot's need to accomplish a task set before him.

In being able to converse on various subjects (like Gilbert and Sullivan), Speedy is able to carry on conversation with humans. The advantage to this is that someone in the company of a robot would not feel alone. In this specific situation, in particular, because Donovan and Powell are at the station alone, Speedy would be able to converse with them, sing, play chess, read to them, etc.

The "limitations of implementing new technology for real-world use" is the extent to which the new technology is depended upon. In this case, the men have only one robot. If it doesn't work, they are in dire straits because in this case, everything is depending upon the robot's ability to succeed. Its failure will mean the death of Donovan and Powell who are waiting for Speedy to return. Implementation of any new device must come with a fail-safe—a back-up. It makes sense to plan for every contingency: in a new situation with new technology, there is no way to be sure of what might go wrong. Surprises are just that—because their occurrence is totally unexcepted.

This is the danger; for without an alternative plan in place, everyone could have died.