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Happy Birthday, Isaac Asimov!

If there is one author associated with science-y robotics science fiction, it is Isaac Asimov. Asimov created two of the 10 robots on the RTSF Top 10 Robots to Be Thankful For (Robbie and R. Daneel Olivaw). While Robbie (1939) was his first robot story, it was Runaround (1942) that introduced the Three Laws of Robotics. Runaround (1942) is included in the new MIT Press book, Robotics Through Science Fiction: Artificial Intelligence Explained Through Six Classic Robot Stories, not because of the Three Laws but because of the potential fields like behavior one of the robots illustrate. The Three Laws of Robotics were deliberately designed by Asimov to have subtle contradictions that would provide the fodder for an infinite number of plots. Much to the frustration of scientists, such as myself and David Woods who analyze the lack of realism of the Three Laws in, the Three Laws have been embraced by the public as a key component of any ethical robot. Even Ira Flatow, the thoughtful host of NPR’s Science Friday was rather shocked that anyone could object to the Three Laws for actual robots — yes, I was the contrarian on the episode linked here. The Three Laws have also motivated or influenced other science fiction, most recently vN where the Laws enable pedophilia. The wikipedia has a partial list of works that refer to the Three Laws; my favorite is Rudy Rucker’s Ware Tetrology, which assumes there will be an robot uprising- because the robots rebel against being considered less important than humans and being treated like property. And be sure to check out the RTSF podcast with Joanne Pransky, who Asimov dubbed the REAL Susan Calvin.

- Robin

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