Isaac Asimov is one of the (if not the most) important figures of robotics in science fiction. Has he had an influence on the development of real-world robotics (in science or industry)?

  • 3
    Is this really on-topic? I've been wrong about posts before, so I'll admit I have no idea what is or isn't on-topic here. :)
    – John C
    Sep 13, 2011 at 23:01
  • @John: It is a question about influence of specific works of science fiction (those written by Isaac Asimov) on real world science and technology. I don't think it is offtopic just because it is somehow related to the real world. If there is another reason why you don't think it is on-topic, please say. Sep 14, 2011 at 10:22
  • @neilfein: Greatest, as in most important. The influence which profoundly affected the largest number of prominent scientists and technologists; which was described or refined in most other works of science fiction or science papers; which affected large number of industrial production halls around the world... Any of these metrics is ok, as long it is relevant, relatively measurable and not a 'because it sounds really cool' subjective kind of argument. Sep 14, 2011 at 10:28
  • 1
    This question still can only be answered with an opinion. It also fails most of the criteria for a good subjective question. Sep 14, 2011 at 14:05
  • 1
    Actually, that is a more answerable question. No reason it can't also ask for clarification as to how and why. (Yeah, I know this one is from when the site was young and naive. :) Asking for the "what" instead of "the greatest" is definitely more of a proper SE question. Would love to see more of an in-depth answer to this now. Sep 14, 2011 at 21:22

8 Answers 8


Well for starters, he coined the term 'robotics'.

EDIT: I would also add that the Three Laws have certainly sparked endless amounts of discussion in the field of robotics as relates to ethics.

  • 2
    I don't see why this answer is accepted. It has a lot of votes, but it certainly isn't a very useful of complete answer. It should be part of larger answer. Mar 20, 2015 at 21:51
  • 1
    For what it is worth, there are only 3 questions on Asimov (on a total of 713 questions) on the new Artificial Intelligence.SE: ai.stackexchange.com/search?q=Asimov+is%3Aquestion. Not more activity on Robotics.SE
    – Taladris
    May 12, 2017 at 4:28

I would say that Asimov is the first to document the challenges and pitfalls of debugging a system (especially with regards to black-box testing), and the illusion of malicious compliance that programs (robotic or computing) seem to take pleasure in.

I often think of SPD (Speedy) when trying to fathom a particularly bizarre pattern of behaviour.


Robots in SF that predated Asimov were mostly characterized in a Frankenstein or Golem fashion; destroying the robot would save the day and conclude the story. He thus pioneered tolerance for non-human and non-organic intelligence.

  • 1
    Before Asimov, good robots were introduced by Otto Binder in his short story "I, Robot" in the January 1939 issue of Amazing Stories.
    – user14111
    Mar 20, 2015 at 20:01
  • Amazing find! I assume replacing 'pioneered' in my above answer with 'championed' or 'popularized' might find your acceptance?
    – aquaherd
    Mar 24, 2015 at 20:18
  • Sorry, I didn't mean to sound critical--of course Asimov was also a "pioneer"--I just don't want the much less famous Binder to be forgotten entirely.
    – user14111
    Mar 24, 2015 at 20:26
  • The magazine mentioned by @user14111 is available at archive.org May 12, 2017 at 20:17

By presenting intelligent, human-like robots, he advanced the field of thought as to what a robot is, how it relates to humans and its own human nature, and what role AI has to play in humanity.


I believe his contribution is very much similar to that of Roddenberry or any other successful sci-fi creator:

He inspired people to become scientists, to help build the future that only previously existed in fiction.

  • So then he only contributed indirectly. His contribution was more to humanity, which then adapted itself (via scientists) to his ideas. May 12, 2017 at 4:01

As mentioned above, he did coin the term "robotics."

Asimov coined the term "robotics" in his 1941 story "Liar!", though he later remarked that he believed then that he was merely using an existing word, as he stated in Gold ("The Robot Chronicles")


However, that appears to be about it. In that same essay in Gold, Asimov writes (page 167-168 in my (first, 1995) edition of Gold)

I myself have never actually worked with robots, never even as much as seen one, but I have never stopped thinking about them.

But, he contributed to the field of robotics in other ways:

Joseph F. Engelberger, studying at Columbia University in the 1950s, came across I, Robot and was sufficiently attracted by what he read to determine that he was going to devote his life to robots.


I have met other roboticists such as Marvin Minsky and Shimon Y. Nof, who also admitted, cheerfully, the value of their early reading of my robot stories.

(same essay, page 167)

The essay (according to the book) was copyrighted in 1990, two years before his death in 1992, so it's doubtful that he started studying with robots at that late point.


Big dog, DARPA cars, partial humaniform bots from the east, endless forms of miniaturization — they all have traces of Asimov.

But the kind Asimov had in mind? I don't think this question can be answered fully at present. For instance we have not even arrived at the point where any of the three laws of robotics are even relevant.


Try running a search on Google Scholar for "three laws of robotics" and see what comes up. While none of the actual tech (or, to be precise, techno-babble) that Asimov used is actually in evidence today ("Positronic brain" was coined as a play on "electronic", as positron <-> electron), the basic concepts are still brought up whenever people discuss autonomous systems and their responsibility towards their operators and bystanders.

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.