tubes, were cutting-edge electronics when the stories were written, performing functions similar to today’s solid-state devices.But a single modern silicon chip contains the equivalent of millions of vacuum tubes and relays, and operates faster, more reliably, and at lower power. Even if five hundred vacuum tubes could be crammed into a robot, they would use daunting amounts of electrical power.
Realizing that the technology of his time was years away from producing sophisticated beings, Asimov went still further. His story “Evidence” hinges on the possibility that a candidate for political office is not human but a humanoid robot. Asimov clearly foresees how such a being might be made.As one of the characters explains:
By using human ova and hormone control, one can grow human flesh and skin over a skeleton of porous silicone plastics that would defy external examination.The eyes, the hair, the skin would be really human, not hu- manoid.And if you put a positronic brain . . . inside, you have a humanoid robot.
This is remarkably close to what twenty-first-century engineering is beginning to do as it interfaces human biological material and artifi- cial parts with each other.
I, Robot is optimistic about the good that robots would bring to humanity but displays a final ambiguity. Robots have superior incor- ruptibility and skills,and sweeping global decisions made by positronic brains should be readily accepted by the human populace, yet some- how robots are also inferior because, as a character in the final story proclaims:
The Machine is only a tool after all, which can help humanity progress faster by taking some of the burdens of calculations and interpretations off its back.The task of the human brain remains . . . discovering new data to be analyzed [and] devising new concepts to be tested.
Another story of the same vintage takes a darker view of what robots might mean for humanity. “With Folded Hands” was written by Jack Williamson, a master of classic pulp science fiction, in 1947 (this short story was a precursor to the 1949 novel The Humanoids and many succeeding editions). In the indefinite future, Sledge is a bril- liant inventor on the planet Wing IV who has discovered a new form of energy. Not by his choice, weapons using his discovery are wielded