AI, Future Predictions and I Robot

This assignment was written by Lena Benjamin for a Foresight and Future Studies module part of the Master of Business Administration in 2009. The class was instructed to find a book to read that looked into the future and write an assignment that specifically focused on assessing macro environmental changes and plausibility of the predictions coming true in the current day. The book chosen was I, Robot which was turned into a film starring Will Smith. Read the assignment and get a subscription to watch the film here on this post! Useful links: Work with Lena BenjaminOne Hour Group Virtual BrainstormIncome Generating & Uncover RevenuesAI For EntrepreneursWatch the latest movies

Foresight and Future Studies assignment (Lena Benjamin, MBA – 4MBA7B6 – 11548340)

I Robot, written by the late Isaac Asimov, initially introduces one of the protagonists Dr Susan Calvin “robopsychologist” at the age of 75 years as she reaches retirement from the large corporation – US Robot and Mechanical Men Inc (USRMM). Dr Calvin relays her robotic experiences to a journalist as he endeavours to capture her half-century career with the company that was founded the day she was born in 1982. 

Dr Calvin has seen the scientific development of robots when they started as “nursemaids” to the androids resembling humans.

The founding of USRMM in 1982 would have created a paradigm shift involving an entirely different experience of the human interaction with robots today in the year 2009. 

It could be argued that the formation of the said organisation may have been necessary if there was a human need e.g. because of the constraints in intelligence or limitations in strength of humans to be able to complete certain tasks. In that scenario in order to resolve the situation the development of robots to the extent explained in the book might have been considered a plausible solution to the problem identified and hence a research and development facility like US Robots and Mechanic Men Inc could have been formed.

Like other organisations that have the ability to develop technology and to innovate like Microsoft or Apple the evolution of USRMM could have produced robots to such an extent as demonstrated in the book particularly if robots were necessary in supporting the lives of humans.  However, humans possibly need to maintain control which may have prevailed and the advancement of robots restricted in order to manage the situation.  

The robots in the book were governed by the 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 to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; and 3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.  If robots did exist to this magnitude then it would be advisable to implant these robots with the necessary conditions that would protect the human creators particularly if the advancement of robots created them as even more superior as they evolved. 

I, Robot is a 2004 American science fiction action film directed by Alex Proyas. The screenplay by Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldsman is from a screen story by Vintar, based on his original screenplay Hardwired, and named after Isaac Asimov’s 1950 short-story collection. Wikipedia. Watch the latest movies & shows

The book is split into nine stories told by Dr Susan Calvin to the journalist, each story involves the Three Laws being stretched to breaking point with the technological advancement of these robots. Each story represents a new and improved robot from the early model of “Robbie” in the first chapter which was purchased as a playmate/nursemaid around the late 1990s, to the highly advanced artificial intelligence known as the Machines that control the global economy by the year 2052.

Certainly in the current year of 2009 the world is full of machines that appear to be controlling the existence of humans from the television to the computer, and from the Nintendo to the mobile phone but how plausible is it that a machine could control the world economy and dictate how the planet is governed. 

In the 21st Century robots are used extensively in order to make human’s lives easier. A robot can be more precise and controlled than human beings. Human beings are fallible in comparison to robots. Nowadays humans use robots in all manner of industries from pharmaceutical to space exploration. There are certain restrictions that make it impossible for a human to carry out tasks because of the physical danger or because of the threat of making costly business mistakes.

Walgreen Co a pharmaceutical firm in the USA launched a multi-million dollar campaign to “install dispensing robots in more than 1,000 of its pharmacies according to reports,” (Drug Store News, 2005). Due to the speed and accuracy of the robots this has enabled the business to decrease the amount of time it takes to process a prescription which includes counting and bottling pills, labelling and capping and ordering by the patient’s last name. 

The efficiency of this business will increase and enable the smooth running of its operations so that it can service more customers. This can be considered an indication that robots are used in the present context and that in the future robots will be used more particularly if business and commerce is sufficiently improved through the introduction of these machines.

“It may be an old fantasy, but the basic premise that we will one day engineer machines that are at least as smart as us and whose behaviour is indistinguishable from ours is, according to many roboticists, closer to reality than we might like to think.” (Bond, 2009). 

I Robot is a story of the evolution of robots and explains that robots could pass as human beings one day. In one of the nine I Robot stories called, “ Evidence” set in the year 2032 tells the story of a politician running for office who is branded a robot. In the future there is a distinct possibility that robots will look like humans and interact with humans and because there are inventors that are already working on the creation of look-alike human robots.

Ray Kurzwell, one such inventor and writer is optimistic about the advancement of robots “we are making very rapid gains in reverse-engineering the brain, which will be a key source of the software for human intelligence” (Bond, 2009). It could be said that the Asimov wrote i Robot to show the profound effect robots could have on the lives of human beings and that they could in the future have a direct impact on how we live.

If we look into the present day, machines are having an impact on how humans live their lives. There is a reliance on machines to do tasks that perhaps could be achieved without machines for instance the use of calculators to do sometimes simple arithmetic, however it is seen as far more easier to utilise the technological advancements of our society rather than use mental arithmetic.

If we look at satellite navigation systems like the Tom Tom – why bother using a map when it is far easier to use a machine that will work out the route. Perhaps this is why Nintendo decided to develop a programme that would help exercise the brain because human brains have become so reliant on machines to help process sometimes relatively simple tasks – the need for this Nintendo programme was designed. 

Certainly Isaac Asimov writings clearly suggest robots would become heavily relied upon in the future. His ‘predictions’ according to the book showed that it would happen at least 30 years into the future from the time the book was first published in 1950. In the present day there is currently an over-reliance on the use of machines which has changed society and the way in which business is being conducted. The external environment has altered with technological advancement appears to have an indicative impact on how humans relate to one another both on a personal level and in business and these are the consequences that Isaac Asimov portrays in i Robot.

Governance of the Population

The governance of the population in the case of i Robot solely concentrates on the governance of robots and not on humans. This was done through the ‘Three Laws of Robotics’ the humans realised that robots were far more sophisticated in their intelligence and so in this respect they would need an insurance that would help protect them against any harm that robots could potentially inflict. Humans were able to implant the laws in the ‘positronic’ brain in order to ensure the robots obeyed orders. This process of ensuring that robots could not harm humans through being programmed appears to be indicative to how humans would have reacted. Therefore this process is plausible and realistic actions of humans and the survival instinct that all humans share. 

The book does show how these laws were stretched to the breaking point and the book also shows the consequences of how the governance of robots can have an impact particularly in the story ‘Little Lost Robot’ which tells the story of a potentially dangerous military robot whose First Law has been tinkered with hides out in a shipment of physically identical standard robots. This story identifies the catastrophic circumstances of a change in the law and how it had an impact on behaviour and how the robot reacted.

Robots are completely different to humans and where humans can identify the hidden meaning in language because they have an ability to ‘read between the lines’ a robot doesn’t. So when a human military soldier said to the robot ‘go get yourself lost’ the robot took this literally and hid among the standard robots whose First Law had not been tinkered with causing a chain of events that involved Dr Calvin having to identify the rogue robot. The first law of robotics prevents robots harming human beings and if this had been tinkered with, all be it to enable humans to conduct harmful duties without the interference of the robots, this change could potentially have devastating results. 

Changes in any laws or processes should be done so with the possible outcomes in mind as even the ‘smallest’ of actions can snowball into a much bigger problem as Isaac Asimov clearly identifies and illustrates in the ‘Little Lost Robot’ story. For instance the use of robots in i Robot were considered important to being able to carry out certain tasks bringing another entity into society that was not there to begin with will have an impact and alter human behaviour. This is true of today where the EU law allows the right to work in countries within the EU which has caused an uproar to the British public who complain that foreign people are coming into Britain and taking work from British people – clearly the changes of governance has caused an impact. 

The end of the book shows a different governance of the population where humans are considering handing over power to the machines to run the world. Set in the year 2052 the world has changed dramatically, it is now split into four regions – Eastern, Tropic, European and Northern. Each with the different Capitals and populations and each governed by a World Coordinator each having discussions as to whether it would be easier to handover the reigns to the machines. 

Given the magnitude of some human decisions whereby Earth in the book by the end is war torn and humans have based their governance on emotions, greed and desires – the machines are not bound by those restrictions and will base any decisions on adhering to the first law of robotics and because there is no scope for misinterpretation the robots would react according to the prevention of harm to humans. With a world that has been downtrodden by the decisions that humans have made it seems plausible that there should be discussions on how to ensure human survival as the alternative is surely the destruction of the human race.

Approaches to citizenship and leadership

US Robot and Mechanic Men Inc, the company that makes the robots appears to be the governing body that dictates the robot population as well as the human one. Their power seems to resemble the power and influence of a Government since there is no other form of leadership mentioned. The company make decisions that impact on the citizens of the world and it could be said because of their misplaced leadership society has changed for the worst. Today, this is not conceivable there are many players that have an impact on the now globalised world. 

The World Leaders in particular are duty bound to act in the best interest of the citizens that occupy this world and each has an obligation to consult each other. In i Robot there appears to be no consultation and US Robot and Mechanic Men Inc appear to be the only and sole organisation making the decisions. There is no resistance to the decision made by the organisation and both the citizens and the protagonists appear to follow the decisions laid down by the organisation. The autocratic nature of the leaders has prevented others having a steer on what is in the best interest of the citizens.

Leadership in i Robot is governed by money, the theme in the later stories is that the aggregate cost of the robots reaches in the millions of dollars such is the advancement of technology. The effect of having what appears to be dictatorship type of organisation that is solely thinking about the financial implications appears to be the apparent decline of the civilisation in the book. This reinforces the concept that leadership should be about the empowerment and engagement of people that can encourage the best and eliminate the worse characteristics in people to ensure that a collective goal is embraced for the good of everyone involved.

Two of the protagonists Powell and Donovan show their dissatisfaction of working for the organisation and the only way the organisation has retained their employment is to give them a huge salary. Powell and Donovan shows the reader that although money helps it is not the sole reason for motivating humans – job satisfaction through being able to make decisions and carry out projects are important to some people whereas for some it involves working in solitude and it is not apparent that US Robot and Mechanic Men Inc realise the importance of leadership and the impact that their decisions have on citizens.

Corporate citizenship is not recognised in the book or its importance. Businesses should respond to not only the economic aspects of being able to maximise profits but also the legal, ethical and philanthropic responsibilities. More and more businesses are recognising corporate citizenship like Nike, Nokia and Ford and appear to have a commitment to it and will possibly in the future become even more guided by doing the right thing in society as it is recognised that industries do contribute to things like sustainability through such things like the climate change issue, therefore the apparent disregard of the organisation in i Robot does not marry up to what is happening in 2009. 

Cultural, economic and political systems

By the end of i Robot the humans discuss the option of turning over the global economy to the robots. The recognition in the book is that the machines can ensure stability of the Earth’s economy by being able to make the necessary calculations to encourage the shifts in supply and demand. This would have a profound impact on whether adverse situations like recessions and even war could happen and these circumstances could potentially be eliminated.

The book suggests that there could be a state of equilibrium through the precise forecasting and interpretations of data that the machines would be able to achieve. However since it is impossible to acknowledge how humans will react in any given situation it is unlikely that robots would be able to achieve this. It would almost certainly be a case of ‘other things being equal’.

Since many disasters in the financial world have appeared because of the mistakes or greed of humans perhaps robots could present an opportunity to reduce this problem because robots can detect whether humans are in danger at which point the first law is activated. The inconsistencies appear because of the inconceivable nature of humans deciding to give ultimate power to machines in the first place.

It is interesting to note that Dr Sue Calvin was 75 years old and due to retire. The age of retirement may have been much later in life because it was culturally accepted to work until that age and also the norm. This is particularly going to be the case if today’s society is anything to go by – because there currently is an ageing population it is plausible to state that a person could work into their 70s to build up their pension pot (currently at a deficit state), or perhaps it will be because there won’t be a state pension in the year 2052 and it is more apparent that women will have more of an issue than men with getting a substantial pension due to career breaks, having a family, lack of equal pay for doing the same job or because of lack of financial planning. Perhaps these issues will be eliminated in the future.

Dr Susan Calvin appears to be the only woman to work at US Robotics. Like many industry’s today there are some that are renowned to attract predominantly men particularly in industry’s like engineering and IT however more women are stepping into the roles that were once considered to be just for men so by the year 2052 it will be considered plausible and culturally accepted that women could be the breadwinners and more likely to contribute economically to society because it is scientifically accepted that women live longer than men. 

The society that Isaac Asimov paints is one that is doomed by human greed and the potential destruction of humans because of it. The corruption and doom is brought on by human desires to satisfy their own needs. Today if a newspaper is picked up there is evidence of greed through simple actions like the MPs expenses debacle and the destruction through wars like the one in Afghanistan. i Robot paints a picture of the escalation of this using the technical advancement of robots that in the end may need to save the human race. The question is what will be the catalyst for change in this society that will see humans making a conscience decision to stop the destruction not through robots but with unselfish collective desires to make a change that will see everyone benefiting – perhaps this is too much like a utopia.


Asimov, I., (1996). i Robot. London: HarperCollinsPublishers. 

Bond, M., (2009) Smart robots[control robotics]. Engineering & Technology. 4 (9), 44-45.

Drug Store News (2005). Seeing Robots In The Future. Drug Store News. 27 (4), 72-84.

Futurist (2004) The Art Of Foresight. Futurist. 38 (3)May/June, 31-37.

Goldman, M., (2009). The Future Does Not Look Pretty. Millimeter, 37 (3), 17-19.

Matten, D. Crane A., (2005). Corporate Citizenship: Toward an extended theoretical conceptualization. Academy of Management Review, 30 (1), 166-179.

Sukhatme, G. Matarić, M., (2002). Robots: Intelligence, Versatility, Adaptivity. Communications Of The ACM, 45 (3), 30-32.

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