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I Robot Asimov

The topic of intelligent machines had gained significant popularity in the science fiction literature during the 20th century.  One of the top contributors to its public acclaim was Isaac Asimov, since many works of his focus on the subject of robots and their role in the development of humanity. Arguably, his biggest input to the theme is the creation of the “Three Laws of Robotics”, which Asimov had formulated in his robot-related short stories collection called “I, Robot.” The abovementioned laws originated from the neat rationality of the author and to this day immeasurably benefit his work, making it more culturally significant. Their purpose - the limitation of actions of artificial intelligence, creates an ethical aspect to the relationship between humanity and machines. In his chapter “Evidence”, Asimov introduces Steven Byerley, an attorney who is about to become a mayor while his political opponents accuse him of being a robot. The narrative later continues in the closing chapter “The Evitable Conflict”, where the author formulates the circumstances which allow machines to guide humanity harmoniously, making all conflicts avoidable. This paper examines the concept of artificial intelligence by Isaac Asimov, as given in the closing chapters of “I, Robot”, to recognize whether the author suggests that the “Three Laws of Robotics” create an indigenous ethical superiority of a robot, contrary to a human.

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Isaac Asimov unites his stories in a continuous chronicle using the first-person narrative. However, the author’s reflections on the subject of human-robot relationship manifest mainly in his main character – Susan Calvin. Thus, being a projection of the author, Calvin is inherently precise and factual in her insight that Steven Byerley (the character in “Evidence”) is, despite the signs to the contrary, a robot. During their first conversation, Byerley asks Calvin about the difference between robots and men. She answers him with a statement that contrary to humans, robots are essentially decent. During the discussion with Alfred Lanning and Francis Quinn about the possibility of Byerley being a robot, Calvin formulates her opinion that the “Three Laws of Robotics”, to which all robots adhere, are substantially not different from the principles underlying in many ethical systems that humanity had devised.

In that manner, Asimov characterizes the rules that control the behavior of robots as the traits of a morally good person. Self-preservation is an inherent characteristic of a human being; the robot’s will to live cannot interfere with other primal laws that define its behavior. However, while Susan Calvin starts her comparison of humans and robots with the Third Law, she fails to add that humans are also capable of self-sacrifice (Asimov, “Evidence” 182). Whether this was intentional or not, this benefits the concept of robot’s ethical eminence. Asimov continues by comparing the Second Law to how responsible humans adhere to the authority, rules, and traditions. He finishes the parallel with a thought that the Third Law resembles the noble aspiration of principled people to help others. Thus, Calvin concludes that those mentioned qualities signalize either that Byerley is a robot, or that he is a morally superior individual.

Moreover, when the characters in their discussion about the true nature of Steven Byerley scrutinize his career as an attorney, they eventually come to the realization that he never caused harm to those who he prosecuted and that all he did was to serve the society and reveal the truth. From that derives the concept that it is not in robot’s capacity to judge people, but rather to aid and protect society. After providing examples of his excellent service for the humanity, Calvin explicitly repeats the initial thesis that this kind of behavior indicates either that Steven Byerley is an extremely diligent and virtuous human being or that he is an intelligent machine.

When Asimov compares robots to the best of humanity, one can sense that an ideal human is an image that may not even exist, while in Asimov’s universe robots are eventually always there to assist the humankind. Unlike Shelley’s Frankenstein, a robot is a perfect creation, an intelligent entity which has only one objective – serve humanity to the fullest extent and whenever possible. According to the author, robots excel humanity in the capacity of making decisions that concern its economic and social development. In “The Evitable Conflict” Asimov establishes that humans learned to recognize the superiority of robots in the economic decision-making process. To underscore their preeminence, he introduces several bit players who fail to defy the consensus, fearing that robots may usurp the humanity’s capacity to develop independently. Asimov resolves that conflict by explaining that machines can act accordingly by making corrections to their plans, taking into consideration the irrational actions of the fundamentalists. Susan Calvin concludes her narrative when she says that robots ultimately can decide the fate of humanity since it is evident that humans on their own cannot approach the complexity of their development as a society.

The numerous moments when Asimov reiterates the notion that robots equal the best of humanity reinforce the image of the machines as far more virtuous than human beings. Moreover, robots recognize the intrinsically flawed nature of humankind’s choices throughout history, so to fulfill their purpose they chose to guide the society, making all conflicts evitable. The exceptional nature of Asimov’s robot makes it ethically superior to any man or woman, just as the embodiment of the human goodness is more desirable as the decision-maker than anyone who does not answer to the “Three Laws of Robotics.”

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