Jerry Oltion


Isaac Asimov's Robot City : Robots And Aliens
Book 4

Robots And Fathers

Isaac Asimov

All of us began as fertilized ova, obviously. For the first nine months, or maybe a little less, we existed in a womb which, under normal conditions, represents about as close to total security as we are likely ever to have. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing and appreciating this security at that time.

We are then brought suddenly into the outside world, with a certain amount of violence, and are exposed, for the first time, to changes in temperature, to the rough touch of moving air, to breathing, drinking and eliminating only with effort (however instinctive and automatic that effort might be). The womb is forever gone.

Nevertheless, each of us, if we have had a normal infancy, has parents; a mother, in particular, who labors to substitute for the womb as much as possible. We are all nearly helpless, but mothers and, to some extent, fathers, if enlightened, see that we are warm, comfortable, fed, washed, dried, and given a chance to sleep undisturbed. It is still not bad, and we are still in no condition to appreciate our good fortune.

Then comes the stage when we are aware of our surroundings. Still small, still largely helpless, we become able to understand the dangers that on us press; we become capable of feeling fear and panic; we become able to grasp, however dimly, the discomfort of loss or threatened loss, and the anguish of unfulfilled desire.

Even then, there is a means of relief and redress. There are the looming figures of father and mother (and, to a far lesser extent, older siblings, if any). We have all seen young children clinging to a father’s leg desperately, or peeping out from behind a mother’s clutched skirt at the fearful sight of other human beings or almost any other kind of novel experience. We see them (and perhaps we can think of ourselves in the dim earliest memories we have) rushing to mother or father as the all-encompassing security.

I remember my daughter, Robyn, at the comparatively advanced age of fourteen, telling me how she had taken an airplane under threatening weather conditions. When I registered fear and terror at what might have been the consequences, she said, calmly, “I wasn’t afraid, because Mamma was with me and I knew she wouldn’t allow anything to happen to me.”

And when she was nineteen, she was temporarily marooned in Great Britain’s Heathrow airfield because of a “work action.” She called me long distance (collect) to tell me of her sad plight and said, with sublime confidence, “Do something!” I was about to try when they announced her plane was taking off and I did not have to reveal my inability to move mountains.

It is inevitable, however, that all children reach the stage where they realize that their parents are but human beings and are not creatures of ultimate ability and wisdom. Most children learn it a lot sooner than mine did because I went to considerable pains to play the role.

Whenever children learn of their parents’ fallibility and weakness, there is bound to be a terrible feeling of loss. The loss is so intense that there is an inevitable search for a substitute, but where can you find it?

Primitive man naturally argued by analogy. If human beings can puff their breath outward, then the wind (an enormous puff of breath) must be the exhalation of a vast supernatural being like a human being but immensely larger and more powerful, a windgod. By similar arguments, an incredible array of supernatural entities were built up-an entire imaginary Universe.

To begin with, it was assumed that these supernatural beings were as contentious, as irascible, as illogical, as passion-ridden as were the human beings on whom they were modeled. They had to be placated endlessly, flattered, praised and bribed into behaving kindly. It was, I suppose, a great advance when the idea arose that a supernatural being might be naturally kind, merciful and loving, and would want to help and cherish human beings.

And when that happened, human beings at last found the father they had lost as they grew up-not the actual, fallible, human father who might still be alive (and a fat lot of good he was), but the superhuman, all-encompassing, all-knowing, all-powerful father they had had as an infant.

Thus, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus repeatedly refers to “your Father which is in heaven.” Of course, it might be argued that the term “Father” is used metaphorically, rather than literally, but metaphors are not developed without reason.

“Fathers” are also found at lower levels than that of a supreme God, since the search for lost security can move in many directions. The representatives of God on Earth may get the title, too. “Pope” is a form of the word “Papa” (it is “papa” in Italian), which is a common word for “father” in many Indo-European languages. And lest the point be lost, he is also called “the Holy Father.” Roman Catholic priests and High Church Episcopalian priests are also addressed as “Father.”

The early theological scholars of the Catholic Church are called “the Fathers of the Church.” It is even possible to look at certain purely secular individuals who are regarded with particular veneration in that fashion. We speak of the “Pilgrim Fathers,” for instance.

We lend the name to Earthly abstractions, too. If one is particularly sentimental about one’s place of birth, its land, its customs, its culture, how can one better describe it than as the “Fatherland.” The Germans have done so with such assiduity and so loudly (“Vaterland”) that the word has come to mean Germany, in particular, and that has made it hard for other nations to use it. We can still speak of the “Motherland” or the “Mother Country,” however. The feminine symbolism bespeaks not so much the sword and spear as the flowing breasts-so perhaps “Motherland” is the healthier metaphor.

The words for “father” and “mother” show up as metaphors in hidden form (for us) because they lurk behind Greek and Latin. The rulers of Rome were the surrogate “fathers” of the State (and pretty lousy and selfish fathers they were). They were “patricians” from the Latin word “pater,” meaning “father.” From “pater,” we also get the Latin word for “fatherland,” so that now we know what a “patriot” is.

A Greek city often sent out colonists who founded other cities which were, essentially, independent, but which often harbored a sentimental attachment for “the mother-city.”

The Greek word for city is “polis” and for mother is “meter.” The mother-city is therefore the “metropolis.” Nowadays, the name is used for any large city dominating a region and the thought is lost-but it’s there.

But has any of this anything to do with robots which are, after all, the subject of my introductions to the series of novels which are brought together under the generic title of “Robot City”?

Surely you can guess. To use mathematical terminology: parent is to child as human being is to robot.

Suppose we rephrase the Three Laws of Robotics and have it the Three Laws of Children, instead.

The First Law would read: A child must not do harm to its parents or, by inaction, allow its parents to come to harm.

One of the Ten Commandments is that we must honor our father and our mother. When I was brought up (by immigrant parents steeped in Talmudic lore), doing my parents harm was unthinkable and, believe me, the thought never occurred to me. In fact, even being impudent was a terrible thing that would have blackened the Universe for me. And, you know, matricide and patricide have always been viewed as among the most horrible, if not the most horrible, of all crimes.

Even if we consider God as the Divine Father, the First Law holds. We can’t conceivably do physical harm to God, but, presumably, if we sin, we cause Him the Divine equivalent of pain and sorrow, so we must be careful not to do that.

The Second Law would read: A child must obey the orders given him by his parents, unless that would violate the First Law.

That’s obvious. In modern lax and permissive times, we forget, but parents always expect to be obeyed, and in more rigid times-in the days of the Romans or Victorians-they went all apoplectic and psychotic if they were not. Roman fathers had the power of life and death over their children, and I imagine death for disobedience was not completely unheard of. And we all know that God reserves places in Hell for disobedient sinners.

The Third Law would read: A child must protect its own existence, unless that would violate the First or Second Laws.

To us, it is rather unthinkable that a parent would expect a child to die or even to suffer injury in the protection of his parents or his obedience to them (thus refraining from violating First and Second Laws). Rather, parents are likely to risk their own lives for their children.

But consider the Divine Father. In the more rigid Godcentered religions, such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, it is expected that human beings will readily, and even joyously, suffer harm all the way to death by torture rather than transgress the least of God’s commandments. Jews, Christians, and Moslems have all gone to their death sturdily rather than do such apparently harmless things as eat bacon, throw a pinch of incense on an idolatrous altar, acknowledge the wrong person as Caliph, and so on. There, one must admit, the Third Law holds.

If, then, we wish to know how robots would react to the loss of human beings, we must see how human beings react to the loss of all-wise, all-powerful parents. Human beings have to find substitutes that supply the loss, and, therefore, so must robots. This is really an obvious thought and is rarely put forward only because most people are very nervous about seeming to be blasphemous. However, back in mo, that magnificent iconoclast, Voltaire, said, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” And if I may be permitted to paddle my rowboat in the wake of Voltaire’s ocean liner, I make bold to agree with him.

It follows, then, that if robots are stranded in a society which contains no human beings, they will do their best to manufacture some. Naturally, there may be no consensus as to what a human being looks like, what its abilities are, and how intelligent it might be. We would expect, then, that all sorts of paths would be taken, all sorts of experiments would be conducted.

After all, think how many gods-and with what variety of nature, appearance and ability-have been invented by human beings who had never seen one, but wanted one desperately just the same. With all that in mind, read the fourth entry in the “Robots and Aliens” series.

Chapter 1. New Beginnings

“So, have you decided on a new name yet?”


Derec waited expectantly for a moment, then looked around in exasperation from the newfound robot to his companions. Ariel and Dr. Avery were both grinning. Wolruf, a golden-furred alien of vaguely doglike shape, was also grinning in her own toothy way. Beside Wolruf stood two more robots, named Adam and Eve. Neither of them seemed amused.

The entire party stood in the jumbled remains of the City Computer Center. It was a testament to Dr. Avery’s engineering skills that the computer still functioned at all, but despite the thick layer of dust over everything and the more recent damage from the struggle to subdue the renegade robot that now stood obediently before them, it still hummed with quiet efficiency as it carried out Avery’s orders to reconstruct the city the robot had been in the process of dismantling.

The robot had originally called itself the Watchful Eye, but Derec had tired of that mouthful almost immediately and had ordered it to come up with something better. Evidently the robot had obeyed, but…

“Ask a simple question,” Derec muttered, shaking his head, but before he could ask a more specific one, such as what the new name might be, the robot spoke again.

“I have chosen the name of a famous historical figure. You may have heard of him. Lucius, the first creative robot in Robot City, who constructed the work of art known as ‘Circuit Breaker.’”

“Lucius?” Derec asked, surprised. He had heard of Lucius, of course, had in fact solved the mystery of Lucius’s murder, but a greater gulf than that which existed between the historical figure and this robot was hard to imagine. Lucius had been an artist, attempting to bring beauty to an otherwise sterile city, while this robot had created nothing but trouble.

“That is correct. However, to avoid confusion I have named myself ‘Lucius II.’ That is ‘two’ as in the numeral, not ‘too’ as in ‘also.’”

“Just what we need,” Or. Avery growled. “Another Lucius.” Avery disliked anything that disrupted his carefully crafted plan for Robot City, and Lucius’s creativity had disrupted it plenty. In retaliation, Avery had removed the creative impulse from all of the city’s robots. He looked at his new Lucius, this Lucius II, as if he would like to remove more than that from it.

The robot met his eyes briefly, its expression inscrutable, then turned to the two other robots in the group surrounding it.

“We should use speech when in the presence of humans,” Adam said after a moment, and Derec realized that Lucius II had been speaking via comlink.

“Is this your judgment or an order given to you by humans?” asked Lucius II.

“Judgment,” replied Adam.

“Does it matter?” Ariel asked.

“Yes. If it had been an order, I would have given it higher priority, though not as high as if it had been an order given directly to me. In that case it would become a Second Law obligation.”

The Second Law of Robotics stated that a robot must obey the orders of human beings unless those orders conflicted with the First Law, which stated that a robot could not harm a human or through inaction allow a human to come to harm. Those, plus the Third Law, which stated that a robot must act to preserve its own existence as long as such protection did not conflict with the first two Laws, were built into the very structure of the hardware that made up the robot’s brain. They could not disobey them without risking complete mental freeze-up.

Derec breathed a soft sigh of relief at hearing Lucius II refer to the Second Law. It was evidence that he intended to obey it, and, by implication, the other two as well. Despite his apparent obedience since they had stopped him, Derec hadn’t been so sure.

Lucius II was still his own robot, all the same. Ariel’s question had been an implicit Second-Law order to answer, and he had done so, but now that he had fulfilled that obligation, Lucius II again turned to Adam and Eve and said, “We seem to have much in common.” As he spoke, his features began to change, flowing into an approximation of theirs.