The Evitable Conflict

From Academic Kids

The Evitable Conflict (1950) is a science-fiction short story by Isaac Asimov.

The 'Machines', powerful positronic computers that control the world's economy and production, start giving instructions that appear to go against their function. Although each glitch is only small, the fact that they exist at all is alarming. Dr Susan Calvin and Stephen Byerley, now World Co-ordinator, investigate.

They discover that the Machines have generalized the First Law to mean 'No robot may harm humanity, or through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm'. (This is similar to the Zeroth Law which Asimov developed in later novels.) Dr Calvin concludes that the "glitches" are deliberate acts by the Machines, allowing a small amount of harm to come to selected individuals in order to prevent a large amount of harm coming to humanity as a whole.

In effect, the Machines have decided that the only way to follow the Zeroth Law is to take control of humanity, which is one of the events that the three Laws are supposed to prevent. Asimov returned to this theme in The Naked Sun and The Robots of Dawn, in which the controlling influence is not a small conspiracy of Machines but instead the aggregate influence of many robots, each individually tasked to prevent harm.



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