(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The Rossum Universal Robot Factory perfects the production of mechanical men and women. The formula was developed originally by old Rossum, but it was left to his son, an engineer, to manufacture the robots. Robots know no joy, no desire to take a solitary walk, no personal wish of any kind. They are highly developed, with mechanisms devised for only one purpose: work.

The robots manufactured by Rossum’s Universal Robot Factory are so lifelike, however, that when the president’s daughter, Helena Glory, calls at the factory and is shown around by Harry Domin, general manager, she can hardly believe that the robots are not human. Helena was sent by the Humanity League on a mission to gain better living conditions for the robots. Helena knows that when the robots begin to act strangely, as they sometimes do, they are destroyed and their parts are used to make new robots. She is dismayed to find that the robots she meets and talks with in the factory do not care whether they are killed or are starved. They think of nothing but their work. They talk rationally, answering her questions, but they seem to have no desires or feelings beyond their given jobs. Domin and the other executives are willing to have her preach to the robots all she wishes.

In the warehouses are hundreds of thousands of robots waiting to be shipped all over the world. Domin tries to convince Helena of the rightness of the new era. Now, humanity is no longer effective. People are too imperfect, too expensive, too immature. Although Domin cannot agree that robots should be freed and allowed human rights, he admits that sometimes they act oddly. Often one would gnash its teeth, throw things about, and then stand still. The attack is similar to epilepsy, and the robot has to go to the stamping-mill to be destroyed. Helena believes these are signs of developing a soul. The managers are working on a pain-nerve. They think that if the robots were to feel pain, these attacks could be foreseen and treated.

The executives try also to convince Helena of the virtue of robots by pointing out to her that the prices of all manufactured and farm goods drop almost to nothing. Where Helena can see only the millions of humans out of work, the managers can see a world in which no human being has to work. People can then sit back and enjoy the labors of mechanical workers. Only Mr. Alquist, head of the works department, disagrees with that notion. Alquist can see the joy that people find only in working and creating. The others quickly vote him down.

Without prior warning, Domin tells Helena that he loves her and cannot bear to lose her. Puzzling even herself, she accepts him. Ten years pass. The managers try to keep from Helena the news that the robots are causing trouble. All over the world small groups of...

(The entire section is 1147 words.)