I, Robot was published by a specialty publisher, Gnome Press, in 1950, the same year that Doubleday published Asimov’s first novel, Pebble in the Sky. Neither sold well, but Pebble in the Sky did better than I, Robot because the former was a novel. Nevertheless, the publication of the collection was a signal event in attaching Asimov’s name to the robot concept and in enhancing his aura of publication as well as presaging the many collections to come.
Stories about robots had been published before. Even the title was taken from Eando Binder’s “I, Robot” in Amazing Stories for January, 1939. What Asimov brought to the concept was the notion of safeguards. In his 1964 collection The Rest of the Robots, Asimov explained that he had grown tired of the stories about humans creating artificial life that turns against its creators. Nothing, he said, is built without safeguards, from stairs to knives to steam engines, and robots would have safeguards built into them in the form of “the three laws of robotics” that Campbell derived from his stories. First, a robot cannot harm a human being or by inaction allow a human being to come to harm. Second, a robot must obey an order given by a human being unless this comes into conflict with the first law. Third, a robot must protect itself from harm unless that comes into conflict with the first two laws. Several attempts were made to film I, Robot before Will Smith starred in a film of that title in 2004 (which offended Asimov fans by flouting the three laws of robotics).
The first story in the collection, “Robbie,” was published in Frederik Pohl’s Super Science Stories. The rest were published in Astounding Science Fiction . “Robbie” describes human distrust of robots until a family learns that its daughter was saved from death by the instant, unthinking action of her robot servant. “Runaround” deals with the quandary of a robot circling a pool of selenium on Mercury because his law of self-preservation exactly balances, at that distance, his law to obey instructions. “Reason” reveals Asimov’s two robot engineers, Powell and Donovan, putting together a robot intended to handle a beam of energy from the sun to the earth from a satellite. The robot does not believe inferior beings could create him and invents a religion based on the...
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