It's been years since I read Asimov, but I seem to remember that when he decided to merge his Robots and his Foundation and Empire universes, he explained the relative lack of robots in the Foundation by explaining that they had decided they were harming humans by doing too much for them, and had thus retreated into hiding and/or shifted into another dimension.

After doing some research, I began to question that memory --now I thought that maybe the reason there are no aliens in the Foundation series is because the robots shifted humanity into an alternate future where they are alone in the galaxy.

The otherwise very comprehensive Wikipedia articles don't seem to have any info that would confirm or deny either or both remembered scenarios. Can anyone confirm or deny, and cite the books where this is explained?

  • I seem to remember the Foundation itself knowing about the existence of robots in the past, and that they were bad for humanity, so their influence also kept the robots from becoming a thing again. But I too may have made that up in my head.
    – Nacht
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 8:55
  • 4
    The "alternate future" bit is the legend Trevize and Pelorat were told near the end of Foundation's Edge (which brought End of Eternity into the mix, of all things). So far as I'm aware, there's no indication in any of the later works that this legend has any basis in fact. The later books established that robots were still around, but hid knowledge of their existence from mankind - in particular, their base of operation was Earth's moon, and they'd ensured that Earth's location had been forgotten. Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 9:09
  • @HarryJohnston - Having looked it up, I think the legend in Foundation's Edge is the material I was searching for. If you make this an actual answer, I'll accept it. Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 11:47

2 Answers 2


You're thinking of the legend that Dom told Pelorat and Trevize near the end of Foundation's Edge:

Dom said, "It's a matter of following the logic to the bitter end. Eventually the robots grew advanced enough to become just sufficiently human to appreciate why human beings should resent being deprived of everything human in the name of their own good. In the long run, the robots were forced to decide that humanity might be better off caring for themselves, however carelessly and ineffectively."

"Therefore, it is said, it was the robots who established Eternity somehow and became the Eternals. They located a reality in which they felt that human beings could be as secure as possible - alone in the Galaxy. Then, having done what they could to guard us and in order to fulfil the First Law in the truest sense, the robots of their own accord ceased to function and ever since we have been human beings - advancing, however we can, alone."

There is no evidence in any of the later works, so far as I'm aware, to suggest that this is anything other than a legend. (It does not fit very closely with the plot of The End of Eternity either.)

A couple of related notes:

  • Robots and Empire established that the reason that Earth was the only planet with advanced life was the presence of the Moon, which is exceptionally large relative to the Earth, and which resulted in radioactive elements being present in Earth's crust in much higher concentrations than on other planets. In Foundation and Earth, Trevize says that a satellite the size of the Moon around a habitable planet is unheard of. (Saturn's rings are also stated to be unique; it is not explained why our solar system has two such anomalies.)

  • Foundation and Earth also established that there were still robots in the galaxy, although they hid their existence from mankind, and that they were responsible for both the creation of Gaia and the development of Psychohistory and thus the creation of the two Foundations. The later books Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation expanded on the latter premise.

  • Thanks, this is definitely the one I was looking for, and it's doubtful I would have ever found it on my own --there are just too many Asimov tomes to comb through them very effectively. Also, I remembered it as being an actual canon explanation, instead of just a legend within its own continuity. At any rate, thanks very much, this was very helpful. Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 14:01
  • FWIW, it probably would be considered canon (or probably canon, if you see what I mean) if Asimov hadn't later decided to write various sequels that made it look much less likely. At that point the Foundation series still hadn't been explicitly linked to the Elijah Baley series, Asimov was just testing the water so to speak. He could still have decided to go a different way. Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 21:29

SPOILERS in the links. And a bit in the content, but worse in the links.

This is told in the story of R. Giskard Reventlov who postulated a Zeroth law which basically stated that a robot had to protect humanity. Because it was the zeroth law, it overrode the first, second, and third laws of robotics.

The actual book where the robots decided that they were hurting humanity was Robots and Empire. Most descriptions don't highlight that part of it. Instead, they talk about how the people of Earth left to settle the stars (actually the planets around, but that doesn't sound as good). The point being that the Earth people did not have common robots while the Spacers (already out among the stars) did. But my memory agrees with yours. That towards the end of the book, Giskard said that robots were holding back humanity.

  • With a few direct quotes, you got yourselve a great answer !
    – Edelk
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 6:45

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