I am looking for sci-fi short story that may have appeared in Analog prior to 2000. It had to do with a personal assistant robot that was intended to protect its human partner from harm. The robot was self-learning. The learning program could adjust itself as it learned about the environment or circumstances or things that could or may injure its human. As I remember, the robot learned that humans could drown in water. The human liked to exercise by swimming. As a result the robot started preventing the human from getting into the water. Then the robot would not let the human near the water. Eventually the robot learned that every thing and every thing could endanger its human and would not allow him to do anything.

  • 39
    Pre 2000 is old? Sigh. OK, I guess I’m old...
    – Jon Custer
    Feb 27, 2020 at 1:12
  • 5
    Had the same thought, for a "laws of robotics" type of robot story, pre-2000 is almost a guarantee, not a filter
    – anon
    Feb 27, 2020 at 12:03

2 Answers 2


I think that "With Folded Hands" is almost correct, but Williamson's 1949 rewrite The Humanoids does explicitly include a line about swimming no longer being allowed:

Contriving a thin smile, he managed to say:

"We used to swim - every summer, Ruth and I."

"Swimming," the machine said, "is forbidden now."

  • 1
    But that’s a novel not a short story, though it was also published (as a serial) in Astounding.
    – Mike Scott
    Feb 27, 2020 at 7:53
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    @MikeScott The Humanoids was Williamson's novel expansion of "With Folded Hands".
    – Spencer
    Feb 28, 2020 at 0:01

That could be the famous 1947 novelette “With Folded Hands” by Jack Williamson. It was first published in Astounding Science Fiction, which was what is now called Analog.

In the course of the next day, the new mechanicals have appeared everywhere in town. They state that they only follow the Prime Directive: "to serve and obey and guard men from harm". Offering their services free of charge, they replace humans as police officers, bank tellers, and more, and eventually drive Underhill out of business. Despite the Humanoids' benign appearance and mission, Underhill soon realizes that, in the name of their Prime Directive, the mechanicals have essentially taken over every aspect of human life. No humans may engage in any behavior that might endanger them, and every human action is carefully scrutinized.

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    Can you quote the part where the humanoids specifically ban swimming? I can't recall that from "With Folded Hands" but it seems to be a big part of the OP's story.
    – user14111
    Feb 26, 2020 at 21:41
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    Read the story recently and do not recall any mention of swimming. Feb 27, 2020 at 2:09
  • @user14111 I don’t think there’s any such line, but such details are often misremembered or conflated with other stories. It’s rare for all the details posted on a story identification question to be correct.
    – Mike Scott
    Feb 27, 2020 at 7:55
  • You may be right. It's troublesome that the OP seems to think "no swimming" was such a big part of the story. On the other hand it's hard to imagine why Analog would publish an obvious rip-off of Jack Williamson's classic. I hope the OP comes back to clear things up.
    – user14111
    Feb 27, 2020 at 8:08

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