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Image copyright: see contents page of each issue. All other material © Visual Imagination 1998 - 2004
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Starburst Back to starburst MainPage Contents Buy this issue from UK/World site Buy this issue from USA $ site
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Feature: I, Robot

Breaking the Three Laws

I, Robot, the movie

With the robots of Isaac Asimov’s classic stories preparing to hit the big screen in I,Robot, we take a look at the movie that will do for technophobia what Jurassic Park did for theme parks…

Since the word ‘robot’ first entered our language, Humans have had an uneasy feeling about the cold, logical, mechanical creations so beloved of Science-Fiction books and movies. They’ve been with us since Czech playwright Karel Capek introduced the term in his 1921 play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), but it didn’t take too long for the otherworldly, disturbing facets of the robot to be taken up to herald a new dawn of Sci-Fi…

Although they have appeared in all shapes, forms and sizes, it is the vaguely Human robot that carries the most dramatic weight; that’s not to say the Daleks, R2-D2 et al don’t have their inherent menace, but they don’t compare with the all-too lifelike mechanoids seen in A.I. or I, Robot.

But if one man can be said to have had more impact on the world of robots than the man who created the term, it must be author and thinker Isaac Asimov. It was Asimov who, in the writing of his classic I,Robot story collection, came up with the vital Three Laws of Robotics from which nearly every writer and movie-maker since has drawn inspiration for their own tales of the Man Machine.

Like robots themselves, the tales that surround them evolve over time, and the new movie version of I,Robot takes the original story off into strange new areas... mainly because it has very little to do with Asimov’s story and is, instead, based on a script called Hardwired. Illogical? You bet!

Asimov’s original I,Robot anthology, published in 1950, was actually a series of nine unrelated short stories, which the author collected together before writing a linking introduction for each. The end result is a pseudo-historical document which relates the imagined history of robots. The anthology contained ‘anecdotes’ by a character that Asimov used on several occasions, Susan Calvin (this character being one of the few things to make survive the transition to the new movie) a doctor with expertise in robotics.

For the movie, the Asimov source material has been ignored – except for one or two minor similarities – and been replaced by a by-the-numbers actioner that has Will Smith as Chicago Police Detective Del Spooner heading the investigating into the murder of Dr Miles Hogenmiller, a worker at the US Robotics company. One of the robots at the company, Sonny, is implicated in the crime despite it meaning that the robot would have been guilty of breaking the First Law of Robotics.

The problem is, if one robot can break the unbreakable Law, surely they all can? In which case, the robot-reliant Humans are in for a massive headache...

Read more about the movie,
along with the Top 10 Robots, in
Starburst #313

Photo © 20th Century Fox
Feature © Visual Imagination 2004. Not for reproduction

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Starburst #313
August 2004
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