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In the book "I, Robot", Isaac Asimov wrote many short stories; one of them, Escape! was about the discovery of hyperspace. Why did the men that flew in hyperspace die? How did they come back to life?

It's not really explained that well, but it is noted that one AI could not construct the ship while the other could. Telling me the AI knew it was going to kill the humans and bring them back, but how and why?

  • 2
    In "The Last Question," all of mankind merges its minds with an infinitesimally large hyperspace computer called the "Universal AC." – Robert Harvey May 8 '11 at 22:58
  • Really, I'm gonna read that one. OR maybe I did and just don't remember. – JustinKaz May 9 '11 at 13:34
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I don't recall hyperspace ever killing people in an Asimov story.

The only story in I, Robot in which the discovery of the hyperspace drive is prominent is Escape!. However, hyperspace doesn't actually kill anyone. Technically, both the characters experiencing the hyperspace jump, and the people monitoring them, consider the travelers dead while in hyperspace; however the travelers keep thinking, talking, and so on, so it's not clear to me why we should consider them dead.

The positronic brain in charge of building the drive also considers the travelers to be dead during the jump. This is a violation of the letter of the first law of robotics — though not of the spirit, since nothing irreversible is happening to the humans. The story revolves around the positronic brain's reaction to this borderline violation of the first law.
As for “one AI could not construct the ship while the other could”, USR's competitor's supercomputer didn't understand the subtlety and completely broke down from being strongly ordered to violate the first law. Susan Calvin handled USR's supercomputer better, so that it only played pranks, distanciating itself from what it was doing, but survived the hurdle.

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    That sounds to be about the right story to match the details in the question. – HorusKol May 8 '11 at 23:15
  • Well one reason we should consider travellers Powell and Donovan dead was the experience they had of being in Hell. Voices assuring them that there was plenty of fire for everyone, and telling them they would be dead a long long time. – Winchell Chung Dec 12 '16 at 12:50
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I haven't read I, Robot in a long time though I have a vague recollection of the story you are talking about.

Asimov's stories quite frequently (i.e. almost always) seem to deal with subtleties of the Three Laws. In the particular story, I think that scientists discover that jumping involved humans jumping out of this plane into another hyperspace, and a very very brief time afterwards coming back into our own plane of existence. So, the computer interprets this as killing off the humans (since they don't exist for a brief amount of time during the jump).

So this 'killing' is killing only in a very technical sense, applicable only for machines and lawyers.

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    Yup, you're remembering Escape!. – user56 May 8 '11 at 19:09

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