The Analysis of Cultural Decisions in the Novel 'I, Robot'

I, Robot is a novel by well-known science fiction author, Isaac Asimov which is comprised of nine short stories about various robots from development company US Robots and Mechanical Men. There are countless critical decisions made throughout the novel. Some decisions including, believing whether a politician is human or robot and a company’s participation into this investigation. The decision to investigate a suspiciously deceitful robot with software issues. On a broader scale, US Robot’s decision in defining the three laws of robotics and also on a more personal level, a mother’s decision to remove or keep a robot that her daughter has developed feelings and a human-like relationship with. This decision addresses the mother’s fear in her daughter’s social development, safety, well-being and happiness. It also relates to today’s issues with humans increased dependence and relationship with technology.


Throughout life, we as humans are faced with decisions constantly. Some decisions become so innate to our being that barely any analysis or time spent deciding is noticed. However, as more complex challenges arise it is essential to understand the theories and possibilities associated with each problem encountered. These theories and analysis methods can take many forms and are inevitably statistically and scientific based. It is in our nature to use these statistics to make the best and most meaningful decisions.

This analysis and use of theories are also the main driver in decision making among business leaders. When analyzing a situation, business or system, it is important for leaders and managers to assess the system and situation as a whole system. Each component of a system interacts and depends on each other and therefore every decision should be analyzed for all possible effects of the various sub-system components. These sub-system components are not only comprised of various engineering parts, departments that work together and financial impacts but also the culture of the work environment to which the leader manages. Understanding these cultural impacts is another key factor to effective leadership in successful scientific management. Leaders need to be able to understand the effects of business decisions on their employees to continue to grow and improve their business as a total system. As an literary example from the novel I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, a detailed analysis of a cultural decision made by a person within leader-like control will be analyzed. This review will help better understand the importance of decision theory and its effects on the cultural system as it related to business management.

Synopsis of the Story Line

I, Robot is a novel that is broken down into nine short stories being told by robopsychologist, Susan Calvin, who worked for US Robots and Mechanical Men. The stories are being told in summary of some of her past experiences as she worked for the company who developed robots for use and assistance in the everyday world for humans. They detailed some of the problems that were encountered as the robots interacted with humans how each were faced.

She explained how each scenario was handled and how, in-part, each were solved and de-conflicted by the company’s three laws of robotics:

  1. “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given by a human being unless it conflicts with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection won’t conflict with the First or Second Law.”

These laws are the foundation of each robot leased by US Robots and Mechanical Men and programmed into their robots to never be broken. The laws are a great foundation of controlling the robots always “behave correctly” however, they leave room for interpretation by the robots. US Robots and Mechanical Men tried to ensure no problems would ever arise between their robots and the human population however as noted by Deming in “The New Economics”, they may have not fully recognized and managed the interdependence of their robots and humans.

The short stories Dr. Calvin explains goes over a variety of topics from which issues arose through human interactions. First, “Robbie” is about is a house robot, for a young girl, Gloria, who develops a great bond with the robot before the mother forces the robot away in fear of their daughter strong relationship with a “machine.” In the next two stories, Powell and Donovan deal with a series of similar issues involving robots, Speedy and Cutie that begin to dis-obey commands while working a deserted station on Mercury and a space as mentioned in “Runaround” and “Reason” respectively. In “Catch that Rabbit”, Powel and Donovan are back to dealing with a possible robot bug development while mining on an asteroid and must being to investigate the root cause before the robots become too far plagued.

The next short stories include “Liar” and “Little Lost Robot” which again show minor faults in the programming of some robots in examples of robots, Herbie and Nestor, one of which is telepathic and one which is able to “interpret” the laws of robots slightly differently.

This is beginning to give examples of possible gaps or miscues in the programming and safeguarding laws that were designed to protect humans from the robots. “Escape” is the following story once again involving Powell and Donovan who use ‘The Brain’ from US Robots and Mechanical Men to automate a ship without the use of humans as part of a experimental practice. As time continues, oddities arise and forced Powell and Donovan to adapt to the demands of ‘The Brain’.

Lastly, “Evidence” is a story that works to prove whether a local politician which appears to “un-human” is in fact a robot or a human. This is the first instance where human-robot boundaries are blurred. This is showing the human-like qualities of the robots and how they can possibly be mistaken as human beings when mixed in the right environment. “The Evitable Contact” is the final short story that shows the development of robots that forces robots to act or not react to avoid harm to humans. This constant need to analyze situations beings to prove a robotic dominance in the world, whether solicited or unsolicited.


In summary, I, Robot introduces the theory and foundation of robots created by US Robots and Mechanical Men. The origination of their robots was to assist and benefit humans in all aspects of life. The creators went to great extents to program their robots and ensure no harm to mankind would ever be a result of a robot’s action. However, through a series of short stories told by Dr. Calvin, holes and faults in the development and programming of the robots start to unravel and impose new problems new imagined by the original designers. There were more possibilities to consider as the robot evolved within human environments.

07 July 2022
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