|1941 - 2016|
|telepathy in 1940|
Asimov had no idea how an engineer might actually endow a robot with human-like behavioral abilities, so he invented a future technology that would solve all the technical problems: the positronic brain.
|in the Ekcolir Reality|
Thoughtful exposition vs
cartoon Sci Fi
In Asimov's first published robot story ('Robbie'), he introduced the idea that a robot could be programmed to love people (writing in 1939, he did not use the word "program"). Social mammals that invest heavily in their young have evolved brain systems that allow for social communication, learning from others and loving relationships. Some of the brain regions and genes that are important for such behavioral strategies in humans are being identified, and we can imagine programming future machines to share these human features. For John Campbell, the editor at Astounding, Asimov's story about a loving robot was too tame: NO SALE.
|cover art by Michael Whelan|
Just the previous year, the story 'Slan' had been published in Astounding. I've never read 'Slan' nor any Superman comics. Asimov was influenced by the many fictional accounts of telepathy that he read as a boy and by John Campbell's editorial biases. As far as I can tell, in Vogt's fictional universe, the telepathic Slan are scheduled to arise by spontaneous "mutation" in the year 2071. Maybe after being bombarded for so long by innumerable stories about telepathy such as 'Slan' and even some comic books, Asimov felt compelled to create an alternative fictional universe in which "superpowers" such as telepathy were viewed from a more thoughtful perspective.
|Telepathy: everyone is doing it! "The Case of the Living Trophies"|
20th century Earth, where no author could resist the impulse to craft telepathic characters.
|cover art by Michael Whelan|
42 years after he published 'Liar!', Asimov published The Robots of Dawn. In this new robot story, Asimov described conditions under which another robot (Giskard) could be endowed with telepathic powers, but keep "his" special abilities secret. This led to Giskard
1) being able to slowly and carefully learn how to use his telepathic powers to exercise "mind control" over humans without being caught in the act and
2) discovering how to give other robots the required positronic brain circuits for telepathy and mind control. Giskard "died young", but he was able to pass his knowledge of telepathy on to Daneel.
|Foundation and Earth|
|An alternate Seldon|
Daneel was able to reprogram his positronic brain, inserting the Zeroth Law: "A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm." Guided by the 4 Laws of Robotics and empowered by his telepathic abilities, Daneel guided Humanity through the next 20,000 years, during which 25,000,000 Earth-like planets of the galaxy were colonized by humans spreading outward from Earth.
Why did Daneel need to push and guide Hari Seldon towards the creation of psychohistory? I'll take up this question in my next blog post, but I'm not sure that Asimov ever provided we readers with a coherent account of why the telepathic Daneel worked so hard to bring into existence the new science of psychohistory and the two Foundations. In the absence of guidance from Asimov, we are free to invent our own reasons.
|Susan Calvin at work. (source)|
|fun with mutants|
|Foundations of Eternity|
|The End of Eternity|
|Asimov in Deep Time|
Next: investigating the origins of Psychohistory
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