I remember I read a nice short story by Asimov from the Robot series, where a robot misinterpreted some voice command and did some witty things instead. I think it was Daneel Olivaw. However, that was more than a decade ago, when I was 10 and I don't recall any of the titles...

Does anyone recall the story and could provide a quote from it?

  • 2
    The stories in Asimov's classic collection, I, Robot (no relation to the 2004 movie of the same name) deal in part with the problems of human voice commands being creatively interpreted by A.I. machines. Peter Watts' Starfish brings it up as well with the semi-organic "head cheese" A.I. computers.
    – Joe L.
    Commented Aug 22, 2015 at 3:28
  • 1
    @JoeL. I wouldn't say Asimov's stories deal with the specific technical problem of speech recognition, but more with logical and unintended consequences of commands given by humans to robots...
    – Andres F.
    Commented Aug 22, 2015 at 3:39
  • Anything showing nice voice dialogues in natural language with humanoids or bulter robots, would be also fine as long as it illustrates speech recognition and doesn't take it for granted ;)
    – smihael
    Commented Aug 22, 2015 at 10:24

2 Answers 2


In Little Lost Robot (1947), someone tells a robot with a modified first law to get lost, in strong words, and it takes the order literally and hides among 62 identical looking robots.

“You told him to go away?” asked Dr. Calvin with sharp interest. “In just those words? Did you say ‘Go away’? Try to remember the exact words.”
    There was apparently an internal struggle in progress. Black cradled his forehead in a broad palm for a moment, then tore it away and said defiantly, “I said, ‘Go lose yourself.’”
    Bogert laughed for a short moment. “And he did, eh?”

In Risk (1954), a robot is supposed to pilot a prototype spaceship with a hyperdrive, but it fails to take off. It turns out that the robot obeyed its orders literally:

“[...] The robot was told to pull back the control bar firmly. Firmly. The word was repeated, strengthened, emphasized. So the robot did what it was told. It pulled it back firmly. There was only one trouble. He was easily ten times stronger than the ordinary human being for whom the control bar was designed.”
    “Are you implying—”
    “I’m saying the bar bent. It bent back just enough to misplace the trigger. When the heat of the robot’s hand twisted the thermocouple, it did not make contact.” He grinned. “This isn’t the failure of just one robot, Dr. Calvin. It’s symbolic of the failure of the robot idea.”
    “Come now, Dr. Black,” said Susan Calvin icily, “you’re drowning logic in missionary psychology. The robot was equipped with adequate understanding as well as with brute force. Had the men who gave it its orders used quantitative terms rather than the foolish adverb ‘firmly,’ this would not have happened. Had they said, ‘apply a pull of fifty-five pounds,’ all would have been well.”

  • The first one is the one I remember! And the second one is perfect too! Thanks!
    – smihael
    Commented Aug 22, 2015 at 15:19

There is such an incident involing Daneel Olivaw. In "The Naked Sun", Elijah Baley, says to Daneel, "Give me your hand.", meaning to extend his arm to help him get up from the chair he was in. Daneel looks at his own arm as if he thought he was being asked to remove it and hand it to Baley. Elijah realizes the problem and restates his request.

This is significant because it was an epiphany for Elijah that put all the clues in place and showed him the solution to the murder. (However, it didn't help me any when I read the novel back in the 70's. ;-)

  • that's a nice one too :) you have a good memmory! i read the novel in 2007/8 and can't remember it to such details!
    – smihael
    Commented Nov 9, 2015 at 22:23

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