Asimovian 21st century robotics.

High-Level cognitive functions in robots, as envisioned in Asimovs books.

Most of Asimov's robot short stories are set in the first age of robotics and space exploration.
A recurring theme is the Three Laws of Robotics, hardwired in a robot's (positronic) brain.
All robots in his fiction must obey these laws, which ensure that a robot does not turn against its creators.
But the underlining question behind it all is of course: How intelligent will these 21st century robots be?
How human-like? Will the coming centuries see things like: a) Robot Love. Robots capable of love
and perhaps capable of passionately killing for love? b) Intelligent robots that use force to realize their plans
for the future. A Pax Robotica? c) Robots motivated by built-in human urges, such as sex?
d) Robots that are sophisticated enough to use all the dimensions of power to get what they want?

Asimov certainly had opinions about it all. Opinions that will be explored below:

1. Roboticide and Robot love.
2. Pax Robotica.
3. Robot Sex.
4. The 3 dimensions of power. Robot power and Asimov.

Asimov and the 3 Dimensions of Power.

Human societies are rife with power struggles. And accordingly, a good
deal of Isaac Asimovs robot fiction is about power (struggles).
E.g. the Robot series and the Foundation series are, among other things,
about the power to decide the fate of humanity....
In Asimovs books, power is never just brute force. It is bit more subtle. It is mentalistic
robots that bend human thinking in their (robots) prefered direction.
It is the Hari Seldon like philosophers, who gain the (power) advantage by
seeing just a little further.

Actually, come to think of it, Asimov follows Steven Lukes ''Power - a radical view'' quite nicely.
Where, according to Lukes, there are three dimensions of power. Dimensions that describe
increasing levels of sophistication.
Certainly, the super intelligent mentalistic robots in Asimovs universe uses all
the dimensions of power to get what they want - But, clever as they are, they do prefer
the more sophisticated versions of power (see Lukes dimension 3).

Lukes - The one dimensional view.

Is the straight forward easily observable view (The primitive version of power).
A has power of B to the extend that he can
get B to do something that B would not otherwise do.

The stress here is on the study of concrete, observable behaviour.
The view involves a focus on behaviour in the making
of decisions on issues over which there is an observable conflict of subjective interests
(Seen as expressed policy preferences, revealed by political participation).

Power is exercised by a ruling class, if there are cases involving key political decisions
in which the preferences of the hypothetical ruling elite run counter to those of any other
likely group that might be suggested, and in such cases, the preferences of the elite regularly
prevail. Observed Conflict is in this view, assumed to be crucial in providing
an experimental test of power attributions.

Lukes - The two dimensional view.

Is the view that deals with control of the (political) agenda.

To the extend that a person or group - consciously or unconsciously -
creates or reinforces barries to the public airing of policy conflicts, that
person or group has power.

Power is here, a set of predominant values, beliefs, rituals, and institutional procedures (rules of
the game) that operate systematically and consistantly to the benefit of
certain persons and groups at the expense of others.
This power embraces coercion, influence, authority, force and manipulation.
Power may be, and often is, exercised by confining the scope of decision making
to relatively safe issues
A non-decision is a decision that results in suppression or twarthing of a latent
or manifest challenge to the values or interests of the decision maker.

A key issue is one that involves a genuine challenge to the resources of power
or authority of those who currently dominate the process by which policy outputs in the system
are determined. The two dimensional view incorporates into the analysis of power relations the
control over the agenda of politics and of the ways in which potential key issues
are kept out of the political process.

Lukes - The three dimensional view.

Is the sophisticated version of power. Here, power is seen as mind control.

A may exercise power over B by getting him to do what he does not want to do,
but he also excercises power over him by influencing, shaping or determining
his very wants.

That is, to secure compliance by controlling peoples very wants.
Controlling their thoughts and desires. In modern societies that is
through the control of information, through the mass media, and through the process of
socialisation. Almost the entire adult population has been subject
to some degree of indoctrination through the schools.

A social situation might be power manipulated, even without any actual conflicts.
The most effective and insidious use of power is to prevent such a conflict from arising
in the first place.

It is not enough to find that there are no grievances, which are denied into the political
process. If the observer can uncover no grievances, then he can not assume there is a
genuine consensus on the prevailing allocation of values.
Perceptions, cognitions and preferences maybe shaped in such a form that people might
accept the existing order of things, because they can't see or imagine an alternative
to the existing system.
To assume that the absense of grivances equals genuine consensus
is simply to rule out the possibility of false or manipulated consensus.


Obviously, this is where chief Robopsychologist dr. Susan Calvin steps in :-)
Susan Calvin, the star of US Robots and Mechanical Men inc.
The woman with the acid charm and the steely character.
The women who loves robots a lot - and men not that much.

Briefly said, Asimov would have wanted Susan Calvin to make some robots ''dimension 3
enabled''. And what robot designer wouldnt be proud to make intelligent robots that
seek influence under Lukes power dimension 3?! Never letting anyone
know what is actually going on. No open conflict. No war. Just R.Giskard twisting
a mind here and there for the greater cause.
Actually, it follows directly from the Three Laws of Robotics, that in order to avoid harm
- you must avoid conflict.
And conflict is certainly avoided in Lukes dimension 3.

So,if you, Susan Calvin and the robots, know the answer to a certain question,
the solution should then be implemented in society with a dimension 3 power operation....

Conflict comes when you (Susan Calvin, R. Daneel, R. Giskard etc) don't know the answer -
or isn't interested in having a certain predetermined outcome.
Then you can step down your power operations to dimensions 1 or 2. Or step out of
a conflict altogether. Allowing an issue to surface, or even allowing conflict.

But somehow Asimov wouldn't really have believed that it would ever come to that
under the Pax Robotica? Would he?
To me it seems that Asimovian powerholders only allow open conflict (dimensions 1 and 2)
as part of a greater scheme, where the conflict serves as a catalyst for the prefered
(robot) solution?
Certainly, Asimov - the authoritarian - would never have believed that anyone could
do better or wiser than Susan Calvin or R.Daneel, operating at full speed
in power dimension 3 ?

-- Posted on Usenet: 12-03-2003 --

Simon Laub.

Simon Laub.
Page revised Dec. 2008.

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Picture is from the Adaptive Machine Systems lab in Osaka Japan. Nov. 2008.