In the story "Little Lost Robot" from I, Robot, a modified Nestor (NS-2) hides himself in a cargo with 62 other physically identical robots.

I think one of the main reasons why the hiding robot was not easily identifiable was NS-2s did not have any serial numbers.

In the story general mentions:

‘But we had to have robots of a different nature. So just a few of the NS-2 model, the Nestors, that is, were prepared with a modified First Law. To keep it quiet, all NS-2s are manufactured without serial numbers; modified members are delivered here along with a group of normal robots; and, of course, all our kind are under the strictest impressionment never to tell of their modification to unauthorized personnel.’ He wore an embarrassed smile, ‘This has all worked out against us now.

It seems only a few NS-2 had modified first law but all of them were missing the serial number. I am not clear on how not having serial number was helpful to keep the operation quiet.

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    So that they can't be traced or recalled by the authorities? – Valorum Nov 19 '18 at 8:33
  • @Valorum which authorities? I think top Authorities only asked for such robots.. – HBhatia Nov 19 '18 at 8:35
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    What they're doing is so illegal as to maybe result in the closure of their entire company. What they need is deniability. That includes not having a record of these robot's construction so if they trash them, there's no gap in the serial numbers to point at. – Valorum Nov 19 '18 at 8:38
  • Even in that case why to leave all NS2 without serial numbers? It would have made more sense for those who had first law modified. 12 in total if I am not wrong. – HBhatia Nov 19 '18 at 9:58
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    If they had serial numbers there would be no story. – Organic Marble Nov 19 '18 at 18:06

It has been a long time since I last read "Little Lost Robot," but I seem to remember there having been a sort of trope about inefficient, bumbling, and stupid government agencies (and bumbling commercial entities) in the robot stories.

The government insisted on the modified NS2 robots to work in the hyperspace research project. It also insisted on the lack of serial numbers.

So you've got a government agency that has insisted on having something stupid done, and now has to be rescued by the overworked, underpaid, very clever underdog heroes.

The "stupid government agency" provides the cover for what is essentially a plot device - if they had serial numbers there'd be no mystery to solve and no story. "Stupid government agency" insists on not having serial numbers - mystery, let's write a story.

Not knocking the story, by the way. I really liked the Powell and Donovan stories.


Not having serial numbers means there is no physical way to tell the modified ones from the non modified ones. ALL are free of serial numbers, but only a few are modified.

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