Robopsychologist Dr. Susan Calvin is retiring. Fifty years of work at U.S. Robot and Mechanical Men, Inc. lie behind her. As she prepares for someone else’s name to be inset on the door of her office, a young reporter for Interplanetary Press interviews her about her experiences over the years as she watched and aided the advancement of human and robotic progress. Dr. Calvin tells him nine stories.
Like a collection of short stories, each chapter of I, Robot by Isaac Asimov narrates a different tale that Dr. Calvin was either told or experienced herself. Some of the stories follow the adventures of Gregory Powell and Michael Donovan, two field men for U.S. Robots, Inc. They test new robots’ performances in the field and have to find solutions to any problems that the robots demonstrate. These two men are very interesting, vivacious characters. Powell is typically smart, calm, and analytic, while Donovan is quick-tempered and impatient. Other chapters follow Dr. Calvin and her work analyzing robotic behavior as a “robopsychologist.” When robots begin acting irrationally or go haywire, it’s up to Calvin to solve the problem. Her job closely involves the Three Laws of Robotics: first, a robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm; second, a robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; third, a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws (37).
Each chapter of I, Robot offers insight into robotic-human interaction and a mystery that must be solved. Throughout the story questions constantly arise. Are humans superior to robots? Can the Three Laws of Robotics be broken? Is it possible for robots to progress beyond humans? What differentiates a robot from a “good” man? After all, “the three rules of Robotics are the essential guiding principles of a good many of the world’s ethical systems” (182). Because of this, self-preservation, obedience to authority, and self-sacrifice can be just as much the signs of robotic behavior as the behavior of a good person.
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov represents the science fiction genre well. Science fiction is well-suited to the discussion of philosophical questions, with its unique scenarios and environments. It provides a good medium through which to ask the question “What would happen if…?” In science fiction, readers and writers alike can step back from the story and judge questions with much more objectivity than usual, and in I, Robot, Asimov gives readers this chance. By not forcing his own views on his audience, Asimov calls readers to think for themselves and practice discernment.