'I, Robot' might leave theaters satisfied, but not Isaac Asimov

(Photo by 20th Century Fox) (Photo Courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

Isaac Asimov's "I, Robot" was, for its time, a revolution in conceptual thinking when it came to predicting future technological developments. The novel was published in 1950 and consisted of nine short stories set more than 100 years past its time. These stories were presented to the audience in the form of an interview between a reporter and a 'robo-psychologist' named Dr. Susan Calvin. Although the stories are separately readable, the short stories are strung together as Calvin recounts the history of robotics and her long, illustrious career to the aforementioned reporter.

As I read this novel, I was immensely intrigued by how Asimov predicted the future would turn out. Most of his predictions were wrong, unfortunately, but that didn't make them any less amusing to read about. It was extremely insightful to gain a glimpse into what people of the mid-20th century thought was in store for the future.

Now, If you examine Asimov's work in comparison with the film "I, Robot," starring Will Smith, you might notice a lack of similarities between the movie and the book. There are three similarities between the movie and the book: robots with the three laws of robotics, a doctor named Calvin and a shared title. That's it. There is no allusion to the plot of Asimov's novel at all.

The film takes place in Chicago in the year 2035, with Will Smith playing a disgruntled police officer who loathes society's use of robots in everyday life. The movie's plot does not conform to any of the nine short stories and touches upon the three laws of robotics in a completely different way.

The three laws of robotics govern over all positronic brains and are as follows:

  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 to 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.
All robots have positronic brains. This means that all robots must yield to these three laws at all times. This holds true in both the movie and the novel. The differences between the two lie in how these laws are interpreted by humans.

The concept behind the film is that humans believe there is only one interpretation of these laws. This belief is key in igniting the conflicts that spawn Will Smith's many action sequences. In the book, however, the concept is entirely different. There is much more of a focus on the philosophical interpretations of the laws and the psychology behind the positronic brains. In the novel, these robots aren't just machines; they are fully cognitive, self-aware creatures who are bound by the unsophistication of the positronic brain and their adherence to the three laws.

Asimov's novel delves into a multitude of moral and logical interpretations of the laws. The movie lacks exploration into this area of thinking and has more of a focus on the character's struggles, not the robot's.

I thoroughly enjoyed both the movie and the book, but for vastly different reasons. If you're looking for a visual thrill ride with "Big Willie" in the leading role ('cause who doesn't love Will Smith?), then "I, Robot" is the movie is for you. If you're more in the mood for a contemplative and intellectually stimulating piece of writing, read Asimov's original work. It's that simple. One book, one movie, one title — universally entertaining.


Report any violations of the Three Laws to wjschliesmann@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @wjschliesmann

Like The State Press on Facebook and follow @statepress on Twitter.

Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.