Oy, Robot!

A post about a long lost draft of Isaac Asimov’s Evidence, a story in his classic book I, Robot. (See Eugene’s meeting notes from May 2015.)

According to Wikipedia:


Isaac Asimov

I, Robot is a fixup of science fiction short stories … [that] originally appeared in the American magazines Super Science Stories and Astounding Science Fiction between 1940 and 1950 and were then compiled into a book for stand-alone publication by Gnome Press in 1950…. The stories are woven together by a framing narrative in which the fictional Dr. Susan Calvin tells each story to a reporter (who serves as the narrator) in the 21st century. Although the stories can be read separately, they share a theme of the interaction of humans, robots, and morality, and when combined they tell a larger story of Asimov’s fictional history of robotics.

I, Robot contains Runaround, the first story in which Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics appear.

The Three Laws:

  1. A robot may not injure a huirobotcoverman being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

But this post is not about Runaround, but rather the story Evidence.

**Spoiler Alert** (C’mon! The story is 72 years old!  If you haven’t read it yet, you should. Google and download it.)

Written in 1946, the story is about whether district attorney Stephen Byerley, a candidate for mayor, is a human or a robot. His opponent Quinn conducts a smear campaign against Byerley, arguing that he is a

Orson Welles

purchased the film rights for $250, but never used them

robot and, thus, not eligible for office. Is he or isn’t he? Arguably, a highly moral human public servant, not just a robot, would follow the Three Laws. The story ends without resolving the issue.

A distant cousin of mine discovered, in the bowels of one of Boston University’s libraries, a manuscript titled Direct Evidence. This appears to be an early version of Evidence. Asimov had a long association of BU. And the story has the feel of Asimov — narrative by way of dialogue.

Much of the story is as included in I, Robot, but the story does divulge. Here’s the relevant portion:

Quinn: “Do you think you can? Do you suppose that your failure to make any attempt to disprove the robot charge – when you could easily, by breaking one of the Three Laws – does anything but convince the people that you are a robot?”

Byerley: “All I see so far is that from being a rather vaguely known, but still largely obscure metropolitan lawyer, I have now become a world figure. You’re a good publicist.”

Quinn: “But you are a robot.”

Byerley: “So it’s been said, but not proven.”

Quinn: “Are you familiar with the Three Laws of Robotics?”

Byerley: “Of course.”

Quinn: “Then, of course, you know that any robot with a positronic brain must follow the Three Laws.”

Byerley: “I believe that is the case. But, I think that we’re both wasting our time with your stating of the obvious.”

Quinn: “Do you think that all robots must obey the Second Law, ‘A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.’?”

Byerley: “I’m not a robotics expert. I couldn’t say for certain.”

Quinn: “I’d like you to stand on your head.”

Byerley: “Good day, Mr. Quinn.”

Quinn: “Stand on your head.”

And he did.


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