These androids show up day in suburban USA and start offering all their services for free - they are much better than the robot helpers that cost money - the protagonist is a salesman of the latter.

Soon, the 'helpers' are everywhere, and human beings effectively cannot do anything without these things keeping people 'safe'. Humans become infantilized and controlled.

Eventually it's discovered that one man created them, and he's been kept prisoner by them to prevent for his own safety.

This seems remarkably similar to the conclusion of the I, Robot movie.

1 Answer 1


I haven't seen the I, Robot movie, but the written story you described is Jack Williamson's 1947 novelette "With Folded Hands . . .", a famous classic, the first story in his Humanoids series; it was first published in Astounding Science Fiction, July 1947 which is available at the Internet Archive, as is the Dimension X radio play. Here is the plot summary from Wikipedia:

Underhill, a seller of "Mechanicals" (unthinking robots that perform menial tasks) in the small town of Two Rivers, is startled to find a competitor's store on his way home. The competitors are not humans but are small black robots who appear more advanced than anything Underhill has encountered before. They describe themselves as "Humanoids."

Disturbed at his encounter, Underhill rushes home to discover that his wife has taken in a new lodger, a mysterious old man named Sledge. 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. Suicide is prohibited. Humans who resist the Prime Directive are taken away and lobotomized, so that they may live happily under the direction of the humanoids.

Underhill learns that his lodger Sledge is the creator of the Humanoids and is on the run from them. Sledge explains that 60 years earlier he had discovered the force of "rhodomagnetics" on the planet Wing IV and that his discovery resulted in a war that destroyed his planet. In his grief, Sledge designed the humanoids to help humanity and be invulnerable to human exploitation. However, he eventually realized that they had instead taken control of humanity, in the name of their Prime Directive, to make humans happy.

The Humanoids are spreading out from Wing IV to every human occupied planet to implement their Prime Directive. Sledge and Underhill attempt to stop the humanoids by aiming a rhodomagnetic beam at Wing IV but fail. The humanoids take Sledge away for surgery. He returns with no memory of his prior life, stating that he is now happy under the humanoids' care. Underhill is driven home by the humanoids, sitting "with folded hands," as there is nothing left to do.

  • 1
    Thank you so much. It was driving me crazy. For such an influential story, it was remarkably difficult to track down - not on any major lists of robot or android stories that I could find. Now that I've checked, it's even more clear how extensively this influenced not only Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, but even the scriptwriters for the "I, Robot" movie, which had an ending that was not anything like Asimov wrote, but interpreted the First Law to be much closer to what Williamson wrote as the consequence of his own single robotic law: enslaving humanity in order to protect us. Full circle.
    – Automaton
    Commented Jun 7, 2013 at 13:07
  • Yes, I just caught that and was trying to edit my earlier comment. Oops.
    – Automaton
    Commented Jun 7, 2013 at 13:14

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