Asimov: “Robot Dreams” vs. I, Robot
“Robot Dreams” vs. I, Robot
In Isaac Asimov’s “Robot Dreams,” we see a robot that was created using a new method. Because of this new method, it was questioned quite extensively. In particular, the robot mentioned that it dreamed. Being something robots were not known or meant to do, the scientists questioned the robot extensively.
The robot dreamed of a field of robots, all toiling and doing the labor they were programmed to do. In the dream, the robot sees one man. As the dream continues, it is revealed that this is not a man at all, but the robot. He is leading his “people” to freedom. The robot also is able to ignore the first two laws of robotics and focus on the third. The end result is that the robot has gained self-awareness. The scientists shoot him with an electronic gun of some sort that scrambles his positronic brain.
The film “I, Robot” sees some of this plot, but expands it greatly. In the film, Will Smith plays a police officer who hates robots. In his past, a robot was able to save him from an accident, but not a little girl. By using logic, the robot went for the person who was most likely to survive. A human may have made a different choice, going for the little girl. Since the robot acted in this manner, Will Smith’s character hated robots.
This movie also contained the dream scene, but the idea of the man who turned out to be the robot was addressed and dismissed. Later on, when it turned out to be the robot after all, the feeling was different. Rather than this being a bad thing, this was portrayed as something good, as Sonny had learned to be “good.”
The difference between the two stories lies in the level of fear. In “Robot Dreams,” the scientists all know full well that there is the potential for robots to rise up and replace humanity. In I, Robot, this fear is gone. The only one who distrusts robots is the detective.
Rather than the robot being the one who learned to ignore the first two laws, it was VIKI, the central robotic hub of the movie. In this version of the story, she follows the first law, but is able to interpret it. She won’t harm humanity, but she won’t allow humanity to harm itself. So she will kill in order to stop the killing. She sees this as logical, though there is some fallacy to this logic. Perhaps one of the laws of robotics should cover not denying a human his free will unless it violates the first law.
We should also look closely at the evolution of free will in robots. In the short story, it’s almost an accident to have free will. Yes, a new design equaled new possibilities. Yet the robot evolved on its own. It wasn’t programmed to dream. In the movie, it was purposefully made to ignore the laws of robotics. This was no accident of evolution. Dreaming came about because of that, but the dream was almost by design to lead the detective to where he needed to be. Only at the end did the prophetic aspect of it come about.
Personally, I think the movie suffered for going this route. While the same basic plotline was followed, the plot suffered by not having a natural evolution. The “ghost in the machine” was eluded to, but it was never said how that caused the robot to evolve.
The setting of I, Robot was also different in that it was near-future, 31 years after the movie release date. I felt this was a bit ambitious on the part of the writer and director of the movie. The odds of us having robots, especially ones that ingrained in our society, by the span of a generation are slim. Rather, I would have given it about a hundred years or more.
The point of view also differed. In “Robot Dreams,” the point of view is that of the robot. In I, Robot, the point of view is that of the detective. While this made for a decent story, I found the movie version to be all-too-predictable. Our hero hates robots. Therefore, robots must go bad and he saves humanity from its own folly.
Personally, I find it more interesting when the protagonist is the robot. This allows for a certain alien mentality. It also raises the question of whether destroying a free-willed robot is moral or not. After all, if a robot is alive, would destroying a robot then be murder? The movie simply removes a threat from humanity. The book causes one to think about the morality of the actions.
Critique of Technology
Both the short story and the movie look at the impact of technology upon humanity. They both question whether humanity’s own creations will turn upon them. In the short story, we see how the robots will eventually rise up and supplant humanity. In the movie, the robots essentially enslave humanity “for its own protection.” This is a subtle difference. At the end of the movie, we see a return to the short story, though you don’t get the feeling that robots will supplant humanity. Rather, you feel that they might co-exist.
Each story has its own limits on what it can tell. Short stories can go more in-depth into character. Movies can be more visual, while short stories force the reader to imagine the robots. In the short story, we go into depth into the robot character. However, our mind’s eye see him in a limited capacity. In the movie, we can see the robots in action. We can see the visual cues of Sonny’s facial expressions. While visually more attractive, the movie does not go into as much depth with characterization.
Role of Technology in Today’s Society
In today’s society, technology can do so many things for us. It allows us to communicate like never before. I’ve managed to contact old high school friends through Facebook, and have made new friendships through AIM. Yet at the same time, these friendships are not as personable as talking with friends in person.
Technology has allowed for newer and greater opportunities. New media is the latest craze, phasing old media out slowly but surely. Newspapers are dying as people gain their news online. Why buy a dead tree with day-old news when one can have instant gratification by going to an online news source?
At the same time, I have critiques of technology. Remember when we used to be able to go to the gas station and just start pumping gas? Now we must first enter in a credit card, punch in our PIN, then go on. It takes longer. Aren’t computers supposed to save us time?
A personal pet peeve of mine is phone automation systems. Sometimes, it’s a struggle to get through the maze of possibilities before you can talk to a real human being. Again, a time waster and something that is not only impersonal, but also detrimental to business. Why do business with a company that puts you through hell before you can even talk to someone?
Another pet peeve is when automated checkers replace human beings. Those are lost jobs.
While technology offers many possibilities, it seems that it doesn’t truly save us a significant portion of time. Sometimes, new possibilities equals too many possibilities.