THE VIRTUAL HISTORY OF ARTIFICIAL BEINGS
about the Three Laws and Robbie’s built-in kindness, the mother sends Robbie away, offering Gloria a living pet instead. But Gloria will have none of it. Seeing that she cannot be consoled, her father suggests a visit to the robot factory so that Gloria can understand that Robbie is not a person, but “a mess of steel and copper . . . with electricity as its juice of life.”
Gloria, however, spies Robbie working on the robot assembly line.As she runs toward her friend, screaming with joy, the adults are horrified to see an automated tractor bearing down on the little girl. They cannot react quickly enough to save her, but Robbie uses its inhuman speed to snatch her up just in time. The story ends with Gloria and Robbie hugging, and the mother agreeing that Robbie can remain in the family as Gloria’s playmate “until he rusts.”A happy ending, with Robbie as hero, yet the mother’s doubts represent all- too-likely reactions: How far would humans trust artificial beings to make sensitive judgments, and is it really good for Gloria to play with a machine rather than with other children?
The remainder of I, Robot explores other dark sides of robot– human interactions. Laws are passed to keep robots off city streets, and one Luddite-like group, the Fundamentalists, especially objects to them.These reactions are not utterly without foundation because the Three Laws have loopholes. In one case, an exact balance between the “moral potentials” for adherence to the Second and Third Laws leads a robot to a paralysis of action that jeopardizes human lives.Another robot becomes an adept liar; in obedience to the First Law, it avoids giving emotional pain by telling people what they want to hear, even if untrue. In yet another story, problems arise from human interven- tion. For a secret government project, U.S. Robots produces a unit with a modified First Law, with serious complications.
Along with ethical issues, I, Robot suggests what a true robotic technology would entail.Amusingly, one element of the story echoes Frankenstein: To activate a positronic brain requires a “vitalizing flash of high voltage electricity,” like the lightning flash in the 1931 film.A robot also contains “twenty thousand individual electric circuits, five hundred vacuum cells, a thousand relays.” Relays, and vacuum cells or