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
How human-like? Will the coming centuries see things like: a)
Robot Love. Robots capable of love
capable of passionately killing for love? b)
Intelligent robots that
use force to realize their plans
for the future. A Pax Robotica?
Robots motivated by built-in human urges, such as sex?
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
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
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
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,
The view involves a focus on behaviour in the making
of decisions on issues over which there is
an observable conflict of subjective
(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
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
This power embraces coercion, influence,
authority, force and manipulation.
Power may be, and often is, exercised by
confining the scope of decision making
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
The two dimensional view incorporates
into the analysis of power relations the
control over the agenda of politics
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
Controlling their thoughts and desires.
In modern societies that is
through the control of information, through the
mass media, and through the process of
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
If the observer can uncover no grievances, then
he can not assume there is a
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
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
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
to a certain question,
the solution should then be implemented
in society with a dimension 3
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
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
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 --
Page revised Dec. 2008.
Picture is from the Adaptive Machine Systems
lab in Osaka Japan. Nov. 2008.