Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 829
The short stories in Isaac Asimov’s collection I, Robot (1950), especially “Robbie” and “Runabout,” establish the three laws of robotics that Asimov worked out to avoid the expected negative response to robot characters. He employed these three laws in the rest of his robot stories and novels. Each of the stories in I, Robot involves a clever or witty use of the three laws, reflecting Asimov’s interest in detective stories and anticipating the robot novels. The story “Liar!” foreshadows the character Giskard, a mind-reading robot.
The Robots of Dawn and Robots and Empire connect the two famous canons of Asimov’s science fiction: the robot stories and the Foundation stories. In these two novels, Asimov continues the stories involving Elijah Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw developed in The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun. Robot characteristics and the story lines from the short stories appear in the novels. The mind-reading robot of “Liar!” becomes Giskard in the two novels.
Giskard creates the opportunity for Earthpeople to colonize other planets after he studies Baley’s performance in the investigation on Aurora. Baley displays great ingenuity in following the scant clues to accurate conclusions and takes considerable risks in exploring the evidence, especially when he has limited time, as in The Robots of Dawn. Baley’s work impresses Giskard and clinches his decision to ensure Earth’s chance to colonize.
Giskard believes that humanity must colonize the universe and form a galactic empire and that Earthpeople’s short lives (a mere possible one hundred years, compared to the Spacers’ four hundred) encourage greater variety in the gene pool, thereby retaining the vitality that will be needed to populate the numerous available worlds. He believes that Earthpeople will be better colonists than the Spacers, in part because the relative shortness of their lives encourages Earthpeople to cooperate with one another and to take risks. These characteristics make Earthpeople willing to brave the discomforts of colonizing new worlds; the Spacers are too comfortable and lazy as a result of their technology, particularly robot technology.
Giskard and Daneel become philosophical. They discover that some humans are less honest, reliable, and honorable than robots, who all are programmed with the three laws of robotics. Giskard and Daneel finally determine that there should be a Zeroth Law of Robotics to supersede the First Law, stating that a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, cause a human being to come to harm. This Zeroth Law holds that the welfare of humanity as a whole outweighs the welfare of any individual human being. Two events influence the formation of this law. The first involves the narrow definition that the Solarians have given to the humanform robots. This definition would allow a robot to harm a human, in violation of the First Law. This definition supports the robots’ inclination to ignore the First Law for the benefit of humanity as a whole. The second involves Elijah Baley’s deathbed message to comfort Daneel. This message was that the good a human does lives after that person and becomes a part of the tapestry of life. It is this tapestry, not the individual, that is important. Their acceptance of this idea further convinces them of the necessity of the Zeroth Law.
The two robots have struggled with the apparent discrepancy among the three laws of robotics and the behavior of humans. After observing Baley and a few other honorable humans, Giskard has come to believe that equivalent rules of behavior govern honorable humans. In his attempt to determine what those rules might be, he imagines that they must rely on a mathematical principle of behavior that he calls psychohistory.
The decision to encourage the colonization of new worlds by the short-lived and prolific Earthpeople provides a basis for the all-human nature of the Foundation galactic empire, further connecting the two canons of Asimov’s work. Giskard continues to search for the mathematical principles and imparts the idea of psychohistory to at least one human, Fastolfe, foreshadowing the development of that science by Hari Seldon in the Foundation stories.
A theme of these novels is that humans may benefit from technology, but it also may be the source of humanity’s downfall. The Spacers do little colonization because they are too comfortable on the worlds that they already have tamed. Technology provides them with sufficient creature comforts, making them reluctant to leave the comforts of home. In addition, their long lives discourage cooperation with one another because any individual usually has more than enough time to accomplish any personal tasks or goals. This lack of cooperation has stifled advancement. Curiosity is minimal and not easily aroused, keeping them at home and allowing their decline, even though they do not realize it is happening. This decline foreshadows developments in the Foundation series by demonstrating how complacency can destroy a society. The connection between the robot stories and the Foundation stories is completed in Prelude to Foundation (1988).
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