Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot was one of the first works to talk about the coexistence of humans and robots. His book inspired the idea of roboethics and the question of responsibility in creating artificial intelligence. In a series of 9 short stories, Asimov highlights the potential benefits and consequences of Robotics interacting with humans on an intimate level, which was developed into a movie in 2004. “I, Robot” is very different that I, Robot, however, the potential consequences of robots knowing more than humans, thus superseding them as a race is very much apparent. However, the movie adaptation highlights more dystopian views compared to the book.
The movie is centered on the death of Dr. Lannings, the father of robotics. His death appeared to be suicide; however, a holographic message left by him to Detective Del Spoon specifically leads to another reality entirely. As Spooner continues investigating Lannings’ death, his negative feelings regarding robots evolved from fluke, to an exposure of a full-fledged robot-driven society, leaving humans in the dust. Dystopian elements of “I, Robot” include corporate greed, use of propaganda, a scorning of individual thought on normative practices, and society becoming controlled and enslaved by technological advancement.
Lawrence Robertson, the CEO of United States Robotics (USR) is relentlessly pursuing his dream of having a robot in every home, and it is very clear throughout the movie that he would stop at nothing to ensure that his dream became a reality. Robertson’s blind greed and human detachment came to light when Spooner was questioning him about Lannings’ death, for he fell from his office window at USR Headquarters. Robertson seemed unmoved, simply concerned about his time, and treating Lannings’ death as a trivial inconvenience. Robertson also makes the interrogation widely difficult by bringing on various lawyers, as well as hide and later push for the decommission of Sonny, the one robot who seemingly has “feelings”, and apparently had something to do with Lannings’ death, and has been giving Spooner insights. Roberts eventually commits suicide himself, when the consequences of putting people at risk for the sake of his profits manifests itself, and he becomes a prisoner of his own product.
The new line of humanoid robots, NS-5, comes alongside the slogan“Three Laws Safe.” These three laws refer to the laws of robotics, which are:
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws
It is claimed that every robot has these three laws encrypted into their hardware, and further enforcing that they are made to serve and help humans. In old recordings of Lannings, he foreshadows the day that robots evolve. This, of course, instilled doubt in robotics, so, USR created the slogan “Three Laws Safe”, which essentially works as propaganda. This slogan leads to the human race blindly trusting these robots to come into their homes, run their errands, and be their companions. For example, in the movie, there is a scene where Spooner sees a robot running with a purse. Under the impression that the robot had potentially stolen it, he begins to chase the robot down the street, commanding it to drop the purse and stop running, to be ignored. After he’s followed and tackled the robot t the ground, the woman who is now holding the bag tells Spooner that the robot was running to return the purse for her because she had asthma and needed her inhaler. This was a direct reflection of how this trust in the three laws allowed humans to put all of their trust in their robot companions, enough that they began to trust robots more than humans, even police. While the idea of having a robot doing essentially anything for you is promising and positive, this advancement in technology ultimately hinders the human race instead of helping them. The trust that USR created with the three laws made it easier to control the population and convince the general public that USR had their best interest in mind, when in fact, they didn’t.
The problem outlined in “I, Robot” lies in the fact that robots used logic to evolve and change the rules, while still technically following them. Thus, technology began to control and manipulate the human race. For example, Det. Spooner doesn't trust robots due to an incident involving a car accident: His car and the car that hit him had driven off of the bridge into the lake. Spooner was saved by a robot, who used logic in choosing to save an officer instead of child because they were more valuable to society at large, and the child drowned [I thought it was because it was more likely for Spooner to survive than the girl, am I misremembering that?]. Spooner goes on to say that a human wouldn’t do that, that a human would have known to save the child. Another problem lies in the fact that Robertson’s powerful Artificial Intelligence, VICKI, had ultimate control over the manufacturing of robots. This gave it the ability to alter the NS-5s hardware and enable them to receive commands given by VICKI. Thus, when the idea of “a robot in every home” came to be a reality, every robot in these homes were compromised by VICKI's alterations. As a result, a robot-centered society came to be. Robots told their humans that they cannot allow them to leave their homes in compliance with rule 2, claiming that leaving the house could but the human in danger. So the human race became enslaved and inferior to their robot companions.
The most apparent dystopian value seen in “I Robot” in compliance with other works read over the course of this semester is in the fact that Spooner was scorned for his disagreement with societal norms. When Spooner warns the FBI about the potential dangers of robotics, he ultimately loses his job because his boss fears that he has lost his mind. Spooner’s noncompliance makes his investigation all the more difficult. VICKI even catches on to his doubts and progression in his investigation, and orders robots to try to kill him throughout the movie. Spooner possesses the qualities of a dystopian protagonist: He questions the existing norm and other societal systems, he inherently feels that there is something very wrong with society’s current state, and, through his perspective, helps to bring these negative aspects to light.