Isaac Asimov's Robot Series

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Isaac Asimov's Robot Series is a series of books by Isaac Asimov, both collections of short stories and novels.


Short stories

Most of Asimov's robot short stories are set in the first age of positronic robotics and space exploration. The unique feature of Asimov's robots are the Three Laws of Robotics, hardwired in the robots' positronic brains, which all robots in his fiction must obey, and which ensure that robots don't turn against their creators.

The stories were not initially conceived as a set, but rather all feature his positronic robots -- indeed there are some inconsistencies among them, especially between the short stories and the novels. They all, however, share a theme of the interaction of humans, robots, and morality. Some of the short stories found in The Complete Robot and other anthologies are clearly not set in the same universe as most of them (the Foundation Universe), even though they feature positronic robots obeying the Three Laws. These stories are "Let's Get Together" and "Victory Unintentional".

Robot novels

The final four robot novels compose the Elijah Baley (sometimes Lije Baley) series and are mysteries starring the Terran human Elijah Baley and his humaniform robot partner, R. Daneel Olivaw. They are set approximately 2000 years after the short stories, and focus on the conflicts between Spacers -- descendants of human settlers from other planets, and the people from overcrowded Earth. One of the short stories from The Complete Robot "Mirror Image" anthology is also set in this time period (between The Naked Sun and The Robots of Dawn), and features both Baley and Olivaw. Another short story (found in The Early Asimov anthology), "Mother Earth", is set about a thousand years before the robot novels, when the Spacer worlds chose to become separated from Earth.

Merging with other series

Asimov later integrated the Robot Series into his all-engulfing Foundation series, making R. Daneel Olivaw appear again twelve thousand years later in the age of the Galactic Empire in sequels and prequels to the original Foundation trilogy, and in the final book of the Robots series - Robots and Empire, we learn how the worlds that later formed the Empire were settled, and how Earth became radioactive (which was first mentioned in Pebble in the Sky).

Other authors

Shortly before his death in 1992, Asimov approved an outline for three novels (Caliban, Inferno, Utopia) by Roger MacBride Allen, set between Robots and the Empire and the Empire Series, telling the story of the terraforming of the Spacer world Inferno, and about the robot revolution started by creating a No Law Robot and then New Law Robots.

There is also another set of novels by various authors (Isaac Asimov's Robots series/Robot City series/Robots and Aliens series/Robots in Time series) loosely connected to the Robots Series, but they contain many inconsistencies with Asimov's books, and are not generally considered canon.

Asimov's robots on screen

The first film version of Asimov's robot stories were five episodes of British television series Out of the Unknown, based on robot short stories and novels. They were: "The Caves of Steel" (1964), "Satisfaction Guaranteed" (1966), "The Prophet" (1967), based on short story "Reason", "Liar!" (1969), and "The Naked Sun" (1969).

In 1999, short story "The Bicentennial Man" was made into a movie starring Robin Williams.

In the late 1970s, Harlan Ellison produced a screenplay based on Asimov's book I, Robot. The film was never made, but the script appeared in book form under the title I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay (1994).

A motion picture adaptation of I, Robot starring Will Smith was released in July 2004 by Twentieth Century Fox. See I, Robot (movie) for details.

Cultural impact

The Three Laws are often used in science fiction novels written by other authors, but tradition dictates that only Dr. Asimov would ever quote the Laws explicitly.

The fictional characters Lieutenant Commander Data, his eldest brother B-4, and his evil brother Lore from Star Trek: The Next Generation, are androids equipped with positronic brains, as an homage to Asimov's robots. Data follows a behavioral code much like the Three Laws of Robotics (one episode references them), and his kin do not. Other characters speak of Data's "ethical and moral subroutines", implying that they are not always paramount in his decision-making process, but instead are activated during times of unusual stress. This may explain why Data has avoided the problem of "mental freeze-out" which plagues Asimov's robots. Data has been shown placing the good of large groups over that of individuals, a version of the Zeroth Law.

Although these stories are well-known, it is hardly ever recognized that Asimov's robots are nothing at all like computers, as the main series of them predated any of the major computer projects. The main stumbling block is that writing a program that would be able to determine whether any of the three laws would be violated is far more difficult than writing one for machine vision, or speech recognition, or even comprehending the activities and motivations in the human world, which is only attempted by determining a vast list of rules to check. Also, the stories' robots never get programming viruses, require updates, or have new features installed. Most important, they only stop functioning due to a clash between the (hypothetical) subroutines which determine whether one of the laws has been violated, never a crash of a subroutine itself: they are never at a loss as to what is going on, only what to do about it.

Rather than precursors of robots that may be made as derivatives of computers, Asimov's robots are actually what in philosophy are called homunculi, thought experiments on what sort of being would result from considering a human being and removing one or more of these characteristics. The best example of this in recent philosophy is considering whether there could be a creature that speaks and acts like a human being but lacks self-consciousness, and what's more, considering how someone else would know from observation whether such a being lacks this capacity.

List of books

Short story collections

The Robot novels

The Caliban trilogy

Major characters

Robot short stories

Robot novels

Followed by:
Foundation Series Empire Series

See also

th:นักสืบหุ่นยนต์ (ชุดหนังสือ)


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