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Is Asimov's short story Robbie the friendly robot Robbie

saves the little Gloria from an accident at the US Robots factory.

And that's it!

Usually, these novels have a riddle about the Three Laws, and the characters have to figure out what's wrong with a robot considering the possible interpretations of these laws.

I didn't find the point in this one... did I miss it?

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    Robbie predates the Three Laws. – DJClayworth Dec 2 '16 at 14:18
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    Both the comment above and the answer below are correct, but I would add that Asimov talked a few times about when he first began the robot stories, there were only two kinds- the destroyer and the bumbling oaf I believe. No robot stories had anything but those two archetypes, while he wanted something more. Robbie, written before the Three Laws, was Asimov experimenting with a story where the robot was neither of those two things. It's a clunky story, to be sure, but that was part of the development process. – Broklynite Dec 2 '16 at 15:09
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    It's about technophobia/prejudice (it's not incidental Gloria tells Cinderella's story who has been mistreated by her evil stepmother to Robbie when they're interrupted by her mother) in a world which rapidly changing as complex technologies are introduced. – Ekaterin Nile Dec 2 '16 at 17:09
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I rather disagree with Werrf’s answer. Asimov wrote Robbie in 1939 when he was only 19 years old. He was still quite inexperienced then, and I think he simply wrote a straightforward story without any metaphors in mind. As mentioned by Broklynite, there were two types of robot stories at that time. Mostly, robots were portrayed as a menace, and Asimov couldn’t stand those stories. Then he came across two stories which featured sympathetic robots, and they inspired him to write a story himself about a robot that is good and lovable.

I think that’s all there is to it. Robbie is a story about a sympathetic robot, and insinuations about man’s dependency on technology etc. were not intended by Asimov.

[I]t became very common, in the 1920s and 1930s, to picture robots as dangerous devices that invariably destroyed their creators. The moral was pointed out over and over again that “there are some things Man was not meant to know.” […].
    At any rate, without quite knowing what dissatisfied me about the robot stories I read, I waited for something better, and I found it in the December 1938 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. That issue contained “Helen O’Loy” by Lester del Rey, a story in which a robot was portrayed sympathetically. […]
    At almost the same time, in the January 1939 issue of Amazing Stories, Eando Binder portrayed a sympathetic robot in I, Robot. This was much the poorer story of the two, but again I vibrated. Dimly, I began to feel that I wanted to write a story in which a robot would be portrayed lovingly. And on May 10, 1939, I began such a story. The job took me two weeks, for in those days it took me quite a while to write a story.
The Story Behind the Robot Novels (1983)

Regarding the Three Laws, DJClayworth and Werrf are right of course: They didn't exist yet when Robbie was written. The Three Laws of Robotics were first featured in Runaround, which Asimov wrote in 1941. But incidentally, Robbie contained a sentence that Asimov later called a “first hint of the First Law”: “He just can’t help being faithful and loving and kind. He’s a machine—made so.”

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Once you open Pandora's Box, you can't close it.

The story is about a family who introduced a powerful new technology to their child; then, not liking how it was affecting their daughter's development, they try to get rid of the robot - but the child, being used to the technology and bonded with the robot, won't be happy until she gets the robot back again.

The metaphor is pretty clear - once some great new benefit is released into the wild, people will forget how to do without it. We see this today with smartphones and the internet - there are plenty of satirical articles complaining about how we'd never cope if we couldn't just look up people in IMDB or find some obscure fact on Wikipedia. This story is Asimov's expression of that undeniable fact, but he's also saying "Yes, once you've made a technological change you can't go back...and that's probably okay."


At the time Robbie was written, in 1940, Asimov had also not yet formulated his famous Three Laws of Robotics, the character of Susan Calvin, or what later became the standard Asimov formula of the Three Laws producing an unexpected result. A rewrite in 1950 added a scene with Susan Calvin, but the story was never about her or the Laws. It was about the emotional bonding between this child and a piece of technology, so it was worth keeping.

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    Thanks for this info about Susan. I was wondering what was she in that scene when she was a student! Great! – Bebs V Dec 2 '16 at 18:46
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    Ironically, this question arose because the OP can't do without the Three Laws being part of plot since they were introduced :D – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 2 '16 at 20:26
  • Asimov explictly says things similar to once you've made a technological change you can't go back...and that's probably okay more than once in his nonfiction writing (but more strongly, sometimes straying more toward 'you'd be crazy to want to'). – Glen_b Dec 3 '16 at 4:34
  • @Glen_b do you have any links to quotes like that? – DonyorM Dec 7 '16 at 5:06
  • I'll try to locate one of the relevant essays. – Glen_b Dec 8 '16 at 3:24

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