(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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,...

(The entire section is 587 words.)