Study Guide

I, Robot Power

By Isaac Asimov


"Now he has creatures to help him; stronger creatures than himself, more faithful, more useful, and absolutely devoted to him." (Introduction.30)

Up in our "Morality and Ethics" section, Calvin notes that robots are better than people morally, but they're also better than humans on a physical level. Still, even though robots are superior to people ("stronger… more useful"), they're totally under our power ("faithful… devoted"). This issue comes up in "Little Lost Robot," and it's an issue we might want to think about: what does it mean for something superior to be totally dominated by an inferior?

And yet he loved his wife—and what was worse, his wife knew it. George Weston, after all, was only a man—poor thing… (Robbie.94)

In these stories, Power comes in different forms. And here's one of them: George Weston may have certain power over his family (this is, after all, a story written in the 1940s, when people had certain ideas about how wives were supposed to be subservient to their husbands). But Grace Weston has some power over George, in part because he seems like a nice guy who wants his wife to be happy.

"We can't go after Speedy ourselves, Mike—not on the Sunside. Even the new insosuits aren't good for more than twenty minutes in direct sunlight." (Runaround.30)

A nice reminder that the most powerful thing on Mercury is…Mercury itself. (Or, technically, the sun, which is very close to Mercury.) The environment is more powerful than human bodies or even human technology. Even Speedy is threatened by an unforeseen chemical interaction.

"You're inferior creatures, with poor reasoning faculties, but I really feel a sort of affection for you." (Reason.122)

Cutie isn't exactly wrong about robots being superior. As he lays out in "Reason," robots are stronger, immune to radiation that would hurt people, and don't need to sleep. In terms of raw power, robots have more than humans. And yet, raw power isn't everything (as we saw earlier with the Westons). Even if humans are inferior, Cutie still feels some affection for them. So when they get in the way, he doesn't crush them, even though he could. How nice of him.

"There are six others under him in an extreme regimentation. He's got life and death power over those subsidiary robots and it must react on his mentality." (Catch that Rabbit.91)

This is Donovan overreacting, but he raises some interesting questions. Dave does have power over his subordinates—does having that sort of power change a person/robot? Well, we would say yes if Dave were a person, but as a robot, Dave is good, so it seems as if having power couldn't change him.

Lanning found his voice and let it out with a roar. "You're suspended, d'ye hear? You're relieved of all duties. You're broken, do you understand?" (Liar.165)

Here's a relatively straightforward example of power in I, Robot: Lanning is the boss and he's yelling at his employee, Bogert. So even when we have robots to help us do our work, bosses will still yell at workers. We guess some things will never change.

"All normal life, Peter, consciously or otherwise, resents domination. If the domination is by an inferior, or by a supposed inferior, the resentment becomes stronger. Physically, and, to an extent, mentally, a robot—any robot—is superior to human beings." (Little Lost Robot.65)

We think this is the central issue of Power in I, Robot: robots are superior in almost every way (smarter, stronger, more moral), but humans are still in control. Calvin thinks that this situation would lead to resentment and hate on the part of the robots, but luckily we have the First Law to protect us—so long as the robots are stable and built with all the Three Laws.

"But even so," insisted Calvin, "we couldn't take chances. Listen, from now on, no one is to as much as breathe to The Brain. I'm taking over." (Escape.66)

Calvin gets bossed around some in this book. She's an employee of Robertson and Lanning and she's under the command of the military in "Little Lost Robot." But she's also a brilliant scientist who commands a certain amount of respect (and more so as her career goes on), so she has some power to throw around. Of course, she only uses her power for good, right?

…Quinn neither ran for office nor canvassed for votes, made no speeches and stuffed no ballot boxes. Any more than Napoleon pulled a trigger at Austerlitz. (Evidence.9)

Quinn isn't a politician, but he has a lot of political power. It's funny that Asimov doesn't tell us a lot about Calvin's job, but he spends some time talking about Quinn's. It's as if Asimov wants us to understand just how Quinn has this behind-the-scenes kind of power. This sets up Quinn as someone who is not to be trusted, so we probably don't mind when he loses.

"Why, Stephen, if I am right, it means that the Machine is conducting our future for us not only simply in direct answer to our direct questions, but in general answer to the world situation and to human psychology as a whole." (Evitable Conflict.222)

The robots have all the power, everyone run for the hills. Actually, the Machines may have grabbed some power, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. We might worry when robots grab power, but don't they have our best interest in mind?