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The story "Runaround" in I, Robot was a great example of how the Laws of Robotics are programmed into positronic brains, and how they can conflict with each other. Powell & Donovan end up having to appeal to the First Law by putting themselves in mortal danger to get Speedy to snap out of his confusion.

But weren't they already in mortal danger due to Speedy's indecision? Clearly Speedy was not aware of this fact, since it would have been a blatant violation of the First Law if he had been. So why didn't they just go on the radio and inform Speedy that they would die without the selenium?

Is this an oversight by Asimov, or did I miss something?

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

It's explained in the first few paragraphs. They can't communicate directly with Speedy by radio (to tell him that they're in danger or strengthen the order) since he's well outside of the effective radio range on Mercury. The radio itself appears to be fixed into place.

They were in the radio room now - with its already subtly antiquated equipment, untouched for the ten years previous to their arrival....


Donovan must have felt it. He began: "I tried to locate him by radio, but it was no go. Radio isn't any good on the Mercury Sunside - not past two miles, anyway. That's one of the reasons the First Expedition failed. And we can't put up the ultrawave equipment for weeks yet"


"I sent Speedy to the nearest, naturally. Seventeen miles away. But what difference does that make?" There was tension in his voice. "There are the penciled dots that mark Speedy's position."

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Thanks. This, of course, begs the obvious question of why Speedy was not made aware of this fact in the first place... – ssdecontrol Aug 3 '14 at 22:36
@ssdecontrol - That's also covered. Donovan just didn't see it as urgent: "You didn't put any urgency into the order, did you?" "What for? It was pure routine." – Valorum Aug 3 '14 at 22:45
I remember that, I'm just surprised they never even told the robot why he was getting the selenium. Seems like they'd have at least mentioned it, or the robot ought to have been briefed on the situation. (Frankly I almost stopped reading at this chapter because it seemed like everything that went wrong was D&P's own fault. I'm glad I didn't, but still.) – ssdecontrol Aug 3 '14 at 23:24
@ssdecontrol Or otherwise given the robot a standing order at the beginning of the mission along the lines of "if it ever takes you more than ten minutes to decide on a course of action, check in with us; any delay in executing your orders may jeopardize the mission or our lives". Heck, I'm pretty sure they'd tell a human that. – Tacroy Aug 4 '14 at 5:16
@Tacroy - I put that one down to the fact that they didn't immediately realise that they couldn't use the radio to communicate with him. – Valorum Aug 4 '14 at 6:05

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