Study Guide

I, Robot Science

By Isaac Asimov


In 2008, she obtained her Ph.D. and joined United States Robots as a "Robopsychologist," becoming the first great practitioner of a new science. (Introduction.8)

Robopsychology (which doesn't exist, at least not yet) is probably the most important science in this book, and we might remember that Calvin is not the first robopsychologist—but she is the "first great practitioner." Which helps remind us that she's almost always right in these stories.

"But something might go wrong. Some— some—" Mrs. Weston was a bit hazy about the insides of a robot, "some little jigger will come loose and the awful thing will go berserk and— and—" (Robbie.77)

Here's Asimov's hint to us that we shouldn't worry about what Mrs. Weston worries about. Notice that Asimov interrupts Mrs. Weston's speech to remind us that she doesn't know what she's talking about. He really wants us to not be on her side here.

"It's just a case of remembering that oxalic acid on heating decomposes into carbon dioxide, water, and good old carbon monoxide. College chem, you know." (Runaround.168)

This doesn't help Powell and Donovan in the long run. They may know college chemistry, but the science that's really important here is robotics and Powell notes that he's "not a robot specialist" (Runaround.152). Well, that last part doesn't seem entirely true to us, but it's a good reminder that the science that matters here is robotics.

"I accept nothing on authority. A hypothesis must be backed by reason, or else it is worthless—and it goes against all the dictates of logic to suppose that you made me." (Reason.53)

We often think of science as being opposed to religion—even Scientology isn't all that scientific. But here Cutie lays out one of the most important principles of science: "accept nothing on authority." In fact, that's almost the motto of the Royal Society, a British scientific organization. So here's Cutie, who will end up founding a religion, and he's sounding a little scientific if you ask us.

"Now—there isn't a roboticist back at United States Robots that knows what a positronic field is or how it works. And neither do I. Neither do you." (Catch that Rabbit.11)

Asimov made up positronic brains, but in these stories, there are scientists who understand those brains. For instance, in the Introduction, Calvin is described as being able to figure out how positronic brains work. But no one knows how a "positronic field" works. How do you react when you read that? On one hand, it seems like a reminder that science moves forward; on the other hand, it seems like a bit of foreshadowing for "The Evitable Conflict," when the Machines are too complex for the humans to check.

"Right! And if you'll notice, he's been working on your time integration of Equation 22. It comes"—Lanning tapped a yellow fingernail upon the last step—"to the identical conclusion I did, and in a quarter the time. You had no right to neglect the Linger Effect in positronic bombardment." (Liar.147)

Lanning and Bogert don't really get along. In fact, they even fight about science and math. We might expect a discussion of science to be calm and rational and maybe a little boring. But Asimov was a scientist and he knew that real scientists fought about science all the time.

"We run the risk continually of blowing a hole in normal space-time fabric and dropping right out of the universe, asteroid and all. Sounds screwy, doesn't it? Naturally, you're on edge sometimes." (Little Lost Robot.82)

We've said before that the hyperatomic drive project reminds us of the Manhattan Project that built the atomic bomb, and especially here, when Gerald Black explains how dangerous the project may be. It's a reminder that science promises certain advances, but may, in fact, lead to danger.

Dr. Alfred Lanning viewed the proceedings with faint scorn—his usual reaction to the doings of the vastly better-paid business and sales divisions. (Escape.19)

This seems like the classic relationship between the research department and the business department. Lanning cares about the science but doesn't care about the business side of things. We don't see a lot of human-human interactions, but it's interesting to note that many of the interactions we see are not particularly friendly.

"He has never been seen to eat or drink. Never! Do you understand the significance of the word? Not rarely, but never!" (Evidence.27)

This is Quinn's evidence that Byerley may be a robot and it's terrible evidence. This is a classic bit of bad science. As your science teacher may have told you, "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." Unfortunately, Quinn isn't a scientist, so he takes absence of evidence as evidence of something strange. It reminds us of "Robbie," when Grace Weston doesn't understand how robots work. There may be several scientist characters here, but not everyone in the book is a scientist. And if a scientist opposes a non-scientist, we're probably going to place our bets on the scientist.

"Every action by any executive which does not follow the exact directions of the Machine he is working with becomes part of the data for the next problem. … The Machine knows, Stephen!" (Evitable Conflict.208)

Calvin lays out for Byerley how the Machines cannot be fooled—any time a human disobeys the Machine, the Machine takes that into account. The Machines may be the perfect administrators because they take everything into account, like the most brilliant scientists. In a way, the Machines have to be human psychologists, just like human Calvin has to be a robot psychologist.