Robert Silverberg’s Reflections: November 2015



‘Where Silverberg goes today, the rest of science fiction will follow tomorrow’

Isaac Asimov

Reflections is a regular column by multi-award-winning SFWA Grandmaster Robert Silverberg, in which he will offer his thoughts on science fiction, literature and the world at large.

This month: ‘Non-Asimovian Robots

The assignment is to compare and contrast:

A) Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, which he devised in December 1940. Actually, a generalized version of them was suggested to him by the great editor John W. Campbell, Jr., but it was Asimov who formulated the laws in explicit terms for a short story called “Runaround,” published in 1942, one of a long series of stories and novels in which he would explore the social and technical consequences of the development of robots with quasi-human intelligence—

“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 Law.”

B) This passage from Philip K. Dick’s novella, “Second Variety,” first published in the May 1953 issue of Space Science Fiction—a story in which, after a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union, the American survivors, based on the Moon, are attacking the Russian victors by means of deadly little remote-controlled robots called “claws” designed to infiltrate the Soviet bases and kill any troops they encounter—

“Across the ground something small and metallic came, flashing in the dull sunlight of mid-day. A metal sphere. It raced up the hill after the Russians, its treads flying. It was small, one of the baby ones. Its claws were out, two razor projections spinning in a blur of white steel. The Russian heard it. He turned instantly, firing. The sphere dissolved into particles. But already a second had emerged and was following the first. The Russian fired again.

“A third sphere leaped up the Russian’s legs, clicking and whirring. It jumped to the shoulder. The spinning blades disappeared into the Russian’s throat. . . .


You can read the rest of the column here, and find Robert Silverberg’s eBooks here – including Reflections and Refractions, a collection of his non-fiction columns. Please note: each column will remain on the site for one month only.