This is an Analog story I think - I'm not sure from when (20th century, surely).

It has a contrived setup, involving massive unemployment caused by the existence of humanoid robots, solved by someone coming up with a simple solution that no one else saw: something like "Only individual humans can own robots (and no one can own too many of them)", so factories have to pay the owners enough money to live on and everybody is happy.

Not Pohl's The Midas Plague or Vonnegut's Player Piano but bearing a thematic similarity.

  • I don't remember this one; could it be late 1990s? (After I let my subscription lapse.)
    – DavidW
    Commented May 10 at 14:59
  • It could be as late as that
    – Andrew
    Commented May 10 at 15:12
  • This is a theme in Karl Schroeder's novel Lockstep: “Only individual, living human beings can legally own multipurpose robots, and the owners must not be in hibernation for a whole turn. Corporations can’t own general-purpose bots, they can only own single-purpose machines like the production-line stuff upstairs, or vehicles and such. So that means that all the bots working upstairs are owned by individual people—mostly the people in the city back there.” She jabbed a thumb at the far wall. “So the corporations pay the bots to work for them, not humans like they did in ancient times?” Commented May 11 at 6:48
  • I guess it's possible this idea came from a previous short story, though since the novel was published in 2014 it seems too late to be related to your story. Commented May 11 at 6:49

1 Answer 1


I'm not sure that this is the story you're thinking of, for one thing it's from Asimov's not Analog, but it definitely features the idea about limited ownership of robots. The story I'm thinking of is "Rust Castles" (1997) by Mark R. Tiedemann, published in Asimov's, April 1997.

Robot ownership is limited to a maximum of three per person, and not permitted to corporations:

"The robot was supposed to free us," Cory said wistfully. She had listened to Tal's rants many times. He worked things through verbally when he was anxious.

He grunted. "Of course. But it just turned everyone who had one—or the limit, three—into petty capitalists. Why the limit? I never understood that."

"It seemed fair at the time. Limit unfair competition."


"Corporations weren't allowed to own robots, but the definition of a corporation was too loose, so we redefined kinds of corporation. Three robots, you were still an individual, even if incorporated. Four you weren't."

What makes me question this identification is that this is a background detail for the story. The robot ownership law sets up a U.S. society where, because there's still a surplus of labour, and labour is now tied to population, legal immigration is non-existent. This means that even refugees aren't permitted residency, and illegal immigrants are hunted, which drives the plot.

As usual, you can read the story at the Internet Archive.

  • Wow. It's almost like this one is a sequel to the one I'm looking for.
    – Andrew
    Commented May 10 at 19:18

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.