This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.
When you think about major contributors to the depiction of robots in science fiction, one of the names you probably think of is Isaac Asimov – especially when it comes to developing the idea of a robot as being something other than a threat or a pest. To a large extent, this is thanks to the development of the Three Laws of Robotics, presented as axiomatic elements of robot behaviour necessary to program with in order to make them useful, safe tools for human beings to use:
1: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2: A robot must obey the 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 Laws.
These laws appeared in several different stories and continuities by Asimov, some of which do not belong in the same continuity as each other – they’re prominent in the Lucky Starr series of juvenile SF novels he wrote, for instance, which doesn’t really have any connections to his other major sequences.
But over the course of his life he did place the Three Laws, and the robots whose positronic brains obey them absolutely, at the heart of a sequence of short stories and novels we could dub the “robot series”. Commencing in the 1940s and going forward until the 1980s, the sequence spans five decades of Asimov’s career – but how much of it is any good? I have fond memories of reading them when little, but recently a friend’s planned LARP event based on the series has given me an impetus to revisit the series, and I’m not entirely pleased by all I see.