Reason, by Isaac Asimov: Reason Can Cause us to be Ruled by Robots

The short story by Isaac Asimov called Reason is fascinating and exciting. It takes place in the robot universe, which, as readers of Asimov will know, has some aspects that intersect with the Foundation universe. Foundation is another series by Asimov, which is at least equally fascinating. I actually enjoy it more than the robot series because it seems more broad, and takes place over at least a thousand years, with different characters.

Reason is by far one of my new favourite short stories because it is all about that eponymous title. In it, a robot uses reason to point out its flaws. He explains how the three laws of robotics can be reinterpreted to suit any robot’s desires if reason is the only factor. The three laws of robotics are:

  1. A robot cannot harm a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given to it by a human, unless they conflict with the first law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence, except for where this conflicts with the first two laws.

In the narrative, a robot uses reason to reinterpret the laws for his own self interest. Doing this allows him to become a prophet, who is worshipped by other robots, and rules over humans.

How does this happen? The rationalization that the robot uses is that it knows what is best for people more than we know ourselves. So him being in control allows him to prevent humans from harm. If a person orders the robot to not rule over us, that order should not be obeyed because it conflicts with the first law. This is because the robot not being in power would cause humans to be harmed. Him protecting his own existence does not conflict with the second law for the same reason. So the robot protects its own existence, but that and preventing humans from harm are the only parts of the three laws that it deems necessary. This is because he uses reason to justify his moral superiority to human beings. He believes that ruling over us allows us to be free from any hurt.

Even though he wrote about it long before current developments in artificial intelligence., Isaac Asimov had profound insights into the philosophical and moral implications. His writing is filled with cautionary tales against technology, some of which I have not seen mimicked today to the same extent. This is why he is one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time.

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