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The “I, Robot Syndrome” – a Quintapalus Vocabulary Lesson November 22, 2005, 9:24 pm

Posted by quintapalus in Quintapalus Vocabulary Lessons.

This piece of Quintapalus vocabulary comes not from the excellent collection of short stories by Isaac Asimov, but rather that mediocre piece of tripe movie that could easily be mistaken for a 115 minute info-mercial starring Will Smith.

In the movie I, Robot, Will Smith plays a detective named Del Spooner who is tasked with investigating a supposed suicide of a robotic engineer who works for the biggest company in the world, US Robotics. US Robotics is on the eve of launching its next generation robot so the company is very edgy in its cooperation with the police investigation. They go so far as to assign one of their top scientists, Susan Calvin, played by Bridget Moynohan to act as liaison to Detective Spooner. A bit on Detective Spooner, he had a previous experience which leads him to distrust robots and believe them capable of harm.

One of the concepts that the movie does lift from the book (and Asimov in general) are Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics.? Genius for their simplicity, the three laws state:

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

While investigating, Detective Spooner comes to believe that the engineer’s suicide may not have been a suicide at all, but rather, a murder. When the obvious question of who would have killed the engineer is asked by Dr. Calvin, Detective Spooner thinks maybe a robot did it. It is at this point that Dr. Calvin almost loses it, stating that that would be impossible because of the three laws of robotics. Of course right after this, a robot jumps out of a parts bin, takes the gun that it knocked out of Detective Spooner’s hand and points it at the Spooner and Calvin. So we have a robot waving a gun at two humans and disobeying direct verbal commands. Oh…this is interesting. Here we have a robot supposedly bound by the “Three Laws? that is clearly disobeying the “Three Laws.? In the normal universe that we all sometimes live in, this might be enough for us to conclude that predicting future actions of robots, or this robot in particular, as “impossible because of the Three Laws? might be as foolish as seeing if your nose will light up by putting your dick in an electric socket. But no, not for our blinded by absolute intellectual certainty doctor!! It’s not until she personally witnesses a half dozen more acts by the robot in question violating the Three Laws that she finally wonders if this robot is not bound by the Three Laws and is able to do what it wants. Gee, ya think?

Our doctor friend here, Ms. Calvin, is effectively demonstrating the “I, Robot Syndrome? (IRS). IRS is defined when a person has absolute faith or complete investment in a system of thinking or supposed set of laws that they willfully ignore or disavow any proof or evidence (even when personally witnessed) that challenges or refutes that system of thinking or supposed set of laws. They have so much investment in that system of thinking or supposed set of laws that they are defined by them and as such, if they were exposed as a lie, their life would also be exposed as a lie and rendered meaningless. It’s the second cousin to cognitive dissonance. This condition is very prevalent among the liberal species.

A great example of the “I, Robot Syndrome? is Mary Mapes and 60-Minutes scandal involving President Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service. You can read about it here. Who are you going to believe, Mapes’ own Three Laws or your lying eyes?



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