In Isaac Asimov’s short story Sally, the main technology are self-driving “automatobiles” which are said to have “positronic” brains and intelligence, which would suggest that they are part of the positronic robot series. However, a major plot point is a modified bus killing the person who essentially tortured it and the story ends with the narrator fearing more car rebellions.

Obviously, killing a human being is the biggest First Law violation there could be. However, it is not clear to me which of the following is true of Sally;

  1. The automatobiles’ positronic brains are intended to have the three laws, but the Frankenstein horrific modifications the villain did with transplanting and changing the brains created an “insane” car that lost compliance. Or:
  2. Despite being a story about positronic artificial intelligence by Asimov, it’s in a different universe to the main Three Laws positronic robot stories.

Which one best describes the automatobiles?


2 Answers 2


In The Complete Robot, one of the various collections of Asimov's robot stories, he states in a prologue:

You will note, by the way, that in these three stories, the concept of Robot-as-Pathos is clearly marked. You may also notice, however, that in "Sally" there seems to be no hint of the Three Laws and that there is more than a hint of Robot-as-Menace. Well, if I want to do that once in a while, I can, I suppose. Who's there to stop me?

So he did not directly state that the three laws don't exist in the story, but he does note their absence.


Not all of Asimov's robot stories share the same universe. For example, Let's Get Together features robots that deliberatly explode to kill people, even though they have positronic brains. Asimov used the term "positronic brain" simply because it sounded futuristic (see What is the Positronic brain coined by Asimov?).

Similarly, a device called "neuronic whip" appears in several Asimov stories that are otherwise unrelated.

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