A pretty influential work for its time. But I couldn’t help thinking how it was just a little bit silly.
The big deal with Asimov’s robots are the Three Laws. These are “built-in” to the robot’s positronic brains somehow – except when they aren’t (Silly Thing #1). There’s one story about just this possibility becoming reality, but after it we are back to assuming the Three Laws always hold. Most of the short stories in this collection are about figuring out how the robot brain is interpreting the Laws and how that explains their seemingly odd behavior. But if the Three Laws are not necessarily in place, then all of the logic in the other stories kind of breaks down in my mind.
Silly Thing #2 is that the robot’s positronic brain = magic. Even the creators don’t understand why they work. They do not really seem to be a continuation of today’s computing. But in one story it mentions that some robots are tasked with designing better robots, and once this has gone on for a few generations you get a design unrecognizable to humans … I guess something like that may happen; compilers can be pretty obtuse sometimes. But it seems to me that having a “debuggable” system is way more important (really knowing what’s going on in there) rather than imprinting Three Laws and hoping for the best. Especially see Scary Thing below, after one more Silly Thing.
Silly Thing #3 – the story about the robot prophet starting a new religion.
Scary Thing, if only subtly so — the final story. Advanced robots called simply Machines control the world economy, and do so quite well. But it turns out they are also actively yet indirectly stamping out robotic opposition, since they interpret any challenges to their “rule” as a violation of the First Law. Their logic is that they alone are the best able to ensure the safety of future humanity.
And in case anyone was wondering – I have not personally seen it, but per the Wikipedia synopsis, the Will Smith movie does not follow any of the original stories whatsoever. Yet they slap a picture of it on the reprint/audiobook version. Typical.