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On Terminators, Matrices, and the Robots of Dawn!
Aug 27, 2003 04:36 PM 3145 Views



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Why is it that we almost always have movie plots in which AI, androids, robots, and their ilk, are shown destroying the world?

Take for eg., the 2 most popular movies of our time - the terminator and the matrix. In both these movies and their sequels, the SKYNET and the MATRIX are shown as setting off on a campaign to destroy earthlings! In fact, this phenomenon is not confined to the celluloid, and spans the world of books too!

Frankenstein complex or a general complexe d'infériorité? Or simply, the fear of the Unknown? Or as the Para-psychologists would say - are we having prémonitions of what the future may portend for us, and hence, this -ve feeling?

*On Asimov’s Robots!

Asimov's books largely dealt with robots of all kinds, and were modelled on a refreshing concept, 'The 3 Laws of Robotics' that primarily guided robots' behaviour towards human beings. In fact, Asimov is credited with using the word “Robotics” for the first time in one of his short stories composed way back in the 1940s.

Asimov's writing was like a whiff of fresh air, and was a pleasant deviation from the norm! At the time that his peers were writing about robots that were essentially malevolent, he wrote about benevolent robots! He introduced robots as largely man-made inventions that functioned to the general good of mankind! To strengthen this perspective, he introduced the then novel concept of the'The 3 Laws of Robotics', within which all robots operated viz.,

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 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.

  • Subsequently, in his later novels, Asimov modified these laws further. Incidentally, these laws continue to be the subject of critiques by scientists the world over. Who knows - when we do have the kind of robots that Asimov envisages in his books, they may be imprinted with similar laws!


It is here that his book, 'The Robots of Dawn', one of his many masterpieces, took centre-stage when it was published. This book laid the foundation for his famous Foundation trilogy!

The Plot

The story deals with the illegal termination of a very valuable android on an advanced planet, Aurora(aka Dawn). An investigator from Earth, Elijay Baley, is called in to investigate. Why from Earth? Because the advanced planets have reached a stage of development where crime of any kind is almost non-existent(idyllic?)! Hence, they do not have a mechanism that can address a crime when it really occurs! So, they turn to Earth, where crime is common;-) Hence, the expert from Earth - shameful credits indeed! Another android Daneel is assigned aid the Earth investigator! The investigator despite all the headaches that he encounters finally manages to solve the crime!

Simple, isn't it? Nope, it is not! There are several twists and turns between the prologue and the epilogue! This book is actually a sequel to'Caves of Steel', and it would be advisable to read that book too! However, it still is a sequel that stands by itself!

More Detail…

The book was a trendsetter for remarkable, but possible, thinking in several ways. In fact, seen from today's perspective, it was almost prophetic! Among its many nuances, it dealt with a futuristic mankind! A future wherein there were two classes of humans’ viz., the spacers and the earthlings!

Spacers were essentially human beings whom Earth had settled down on other planets. They were the best from Earth's gene pool, and generally, had the best genetic traits to their credit! But, once these spacers colonised on other planets, they severed their umbilical cord that connected them to their mother planet, Earth. They developed vastly, both physiologically and intellectually, and were able to virtually eliminate disease from their biospheres! Result! Long life spanning several centuries! Fantasy? Well, the fact is, humanity may well be on the way to that ideal!

On the other hand, earthlings took a totally different approach. They stopped living on the surface of the planet! Instead, they burrowed down under the planet. They built huge beehives of steel that supported them throughout their lives. Day and night lost meaning! After a point of time, it became impossible for them to even think of living on the surface of the planet as they were beset by a phenomenon that our psychiatrists would call agoraphobia or fear of open spaces! With that, they lost the advantage as they no longer could look to the stars for exploration, and were permanently cursed to live on their earth prison.


How is the population going to adjust itself with long lived humans?

Enter genetics, genomics, demography, and enforced population control by the state! The state enforces the number of people that need to be born;-) based on the number of people that are estimated to die! When there is a requirement, the gene pool is resorted to!

But, won't the people turn rebellious?

Would they when the entire process is agreeable to them? Importantly, why would they do so when they live like emperors in huge palatial mansions blessed with longevity and youth!

How would the Gene Pool impact on blood relationships?

All blood ties have lost meaning, and are only preserved as scientific records and for genomic computations. There are no longer societal taboos like incest for the simple reason that there is no public knowledge of blood ties. Depravity? The only consideration is genomics!

If androids look and function as human beings, how would it impact their society?

Here, Asimov has explored the clash of age-old prejudices, and captured them on 2 different planets, Earth and Aurora. On Earth, robots are taboo! On Aurora, it is an entirely different story. Robots have rights, and they occupy an almost equal place as humans. They outnumber humans easily by scores! And are imbibed with the ability to. yep! LEARN! Can robots learn?

The book casts valuable insights on these and other aspects. The author's views themselves cannot be taken lightly. He was a scientist in his own right, and was a member of the MENSA!


The book also discusses the possibilities of robots not only colonising planets in place of humans, but also setting up robot colonies much like human colonies that procreate. The book is a masterpiece when it comes to the relations between human beings and robots, and deals extensively with it.


Must robots always be associated with Armageddon, violence, and carnage? Not necessarily! Read this book to find out the alternatives to the clichés!

A must read book! Makes very interesting reading and throws several insights into psychology, sociology, logic, genetics, genomics, and technology!

Sci-fi enthusiasts - don't miss this book!

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Robots Of Dawn, The - Isaac Asimov