I read a story which should should have been published at least 40 years ago, which was probably (though I'm not absolutely sure) Asimov's.

The book tells the story of - beware, spoilers ahead -

A group travelling space in search of some question. They ultimately arrive to some planet (might be earth) where they discover a very old robot with some special mental powers (telepathy? controlling man's mind?). It turns out that the robot was manipulating man's history led by what he defines as the zero rule of himself - the good of humanity (which he can somehow sense or deduce).

I would really appreciate reference to the book.



Assuming this is indeed a story by Asimov (and not by some other writer who might have had the same idea), it wouldn't be that old. Asimov introduced the idea of the zeroth law implicitly in a Susan Calvin short story, “The Evitable Conflict”, in 1950. The world is managed by the Machines, robots which act for humanity as a whole, and who consider humans on a statistical basis, so that they interpret the First Law as regarding humanity as a whole rather than individual humans.

However, according to both my knowledge and Wikipedia's, Asimov didn't formulate this as a separate Zeroth Law until much later, in the novel Robots and Empire, published in 1985, which tied his Foundation and Empire universe with his Robots universe. In Robots and Empire, R. Daneel and R. Giskard are confronted with moral dilemmas that lead them to formulate the Zeroth Law.

A robot may not injure humanity, or through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

Violating the First Law to obey the Zeroth Law causes Giskard to die

after he causes the Earth to become uninhabitable, but Daneel lives on to turn out to be the mastermind behind the Empire, the Foundations, and Gaia.

If the story you describe is in Asimov's cycle, it would have to be in his late Foundations sequels (which I haven't read, so I can't confirm), probably Foundation and Earth, which is where

Daneel's involvement is revealed.

It's quite possible that other writers either came up with the same Zeroth Law independently, or picked up the hints in “The Evitable Conflict” and in the first Robots novel The Caves of Steel where the idea is also discussed indirectly (and a translator even expressed the idea in the form of an amendment to the First Law).

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  • Sorry, I think that I indeed exaggerated with time estimation and indeed referred to "Robots and Empire". Thanks! – Dean.Roll Aug 31 '13 at 12:00
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    The story describe in the original question is definitely "Foundation and Earth", even though the zeroth law might've been stated before, the description given in the question matches exactly the plot for Foundation and Earth. – Deleteman Aug 31 '13 at 13:50
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    @Deleteman: specifically Part VII of Foundation and Earth published in 1986 – Henry Sep 18 '13 at 7:50

I think it's Isaac Asimov, Robots and Empire, the story that ties the robots stories with the foundation stories. See the entry in Jenkins’ Spoiler-Laden Guide to Isaac Asimov.

Alternately, the wise old robot could be Daneel, who in Robots and Empire took the zeroth law as his legacy from his friend Giskard, and is steering humanity according to it, using the gift of telepathy and the limited control over humans it offers. In that case, the book is likely Foundation and earth by Isaac Asimov in which Golan Trevize finds Daneel in a secret base on the Moon with a small group of robots; or perhaps Prelude to Foundation in which Hari Seldon meets Daneel, or Foundation’s Triumph by David Brin.

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Asimov added the zeroth law in his final robot novel Robots and Empire The book is set about two centuries after the three earlier novels, and the protagonist of those books is long dead. The two robots, R. Daneel Olivaw and R. Giskard Reventlov are attempting to circumvent the first law forbidding harm to individual humans in order to permit actions which will benefit all mankind.

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