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Written by Timothy Sexton
I, Robot is not a novel, but a series of loosely connected short stories predominantly unified by theme. To further facilitate the linking together of the stories, Asimov creates a framing device in which an unnamed narrator creates the history of robotics. His primary source is Susan Calvin, whose “interviews” provide background information to further assist the reader in creating a linear progression through the stories.
Dr. Susan Calvin
Unlike in most science fiction tales—especially at the time the book was published—the dominant human personality with whom readers are invited to identity is a woman. Susan Calvin is a coldly logical, somewhat aloof “robot psychologist” in the employ of U.S. Robots & Mechanical Men, Inc. In addition to appearing in the stories contained within I, Robot, Calvin occasionally pops up in other works by Asimov not related to the collection. Although the men with and for whom she works often refer to her in stereotypical sexist ways, Asimov treats her as intelligent, capable and strong. Among other things, it is Calvin who figures out how to cause the mind-reading robot Herbie to essentially go mad, robot-style and thus put an end to the problems he’s caused and raised.
Herbie is a robot featured in the story “Liar!” who has somehow managed to acquire the ability to read minds. Nobody—even Dr. Calvin—is quite sure how this managed to happen, but eventually it becomes a problem. In trying to avoid the Robotic Law mandating that the machines cause no harm to humans, his lies intended to skirt this issues ultimately have the effect of causing even greater harm.
Director of Research at U.S. Robots, Lanning is essentially the guy that started it all. As the Father of Robotics, by the time the narrator is piecing together that history, he has lived to see his dreams come wildly true. His most significant appearance is in the story “Evidence” which covers the territory of the difficulty of distinguishing humans from robots once technology has evolved in sophistication to that point.
Gregory Powell and Michael Donovan
Powell and Donovan are the fixers of the robot universe. Whenever a robot starts developing unusual behavior or fails traditional testing procedures, these two field engineers are send to distant parts of the galaxy to get things back in order. Primarily serving as the book’s comic relief, they are quite adept at their job and like most of the other characters highly intelligent and well-trained.
Robbie the robot (not to be confused with the much more famous Robbie the Robot from movie and TV fame) is featured in the opening story bearing his name which opens the collection. Although he cannot communicate, he and a young girl named Gloria Weston develop a strong bond which is viewed with technophobic dislike by Gloria’s mother. She insists her husband remove Robbie from the household which sends young Gloria into an emotional spiral.
Cutie is the nickname given to QT-1 who refuses to believe that so inferior a mind as that possessed by humans could be capable of creating him. This launches Cutie onto an ontological odyssey which ultimately results in forming his own religion and demanding worship by lesser robots.
A politician whose opponent, Francis Quinn, accuses of actually being a robot since no one has ever seen Byerley engage in normal human activities like eating and sleeping. His lack of a definite personal background is also troubling. Citing an invasion of privacy, however, Byerley steadfastly refuses to be drawn into a situation where he must prove he is, indeed, human. Quinn thus turns to Dr. Calvin for help in trying to determine whether his mysterious nemesis if robot or human from behavioral analysis alone. Calvin concludes he is not a robot when he violates the First Law of Robotics mandate against harming a human. Despite lingering questions when Byerley himself raises the possibility that what he harmed was actually not a human being a robot, the narrator’s history of robotics draws to a close with the single most powerful human being in the world perhaps not being human at all.
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Robbie is an early model robot. He is a humanoid, although, he cannot speak. Robbie is a nursemaid. It is his job to take care of Gloria.... and I believe the attachment is more important to Gloria than to Robbie. Robbie is programmed. He will...