The novel starts off with the introduction of the character Dr. Susan Calvin who is in an interview with a reporter, which is considered as the narrator. In this interview she offers stories from her 50 years as a robo-psychologist that involve robots and are later used as chapters in the book.
These stories use the Three Laws of Robotics that Asiimov created along with his stories. The first law states that a robot cannot bring harm to a human in any way. The second law states that a robot has to obey orders given to it by human beings except when it conflicts with the first law. The third law states that a robot has to protect itself as long as it doesn’t conflict with the first or second laws.
“Robbie” This chapter or story talks about a girl named Gloria and a caretaker robot she received as a present from her mom after robots break out as a new trend. After more and more people begin to hate robots, Gloria’s mom, Mrs. Weston, returns Robbie because she feared that Gloria would become anti-social and only interact with robots like Robbie instead of other children. To her dismay, she soon realized that the loss of Robbie made her daughter depressed as Robbie grew to become Gloria’s best friend. To reverse her state of mind, Gloria’s parents bring her to New York City in an attempt to take her mind off the topic.
After taking her to all of the attractions New York has to offer, her depression is still yet to be cured. Mr. Weston then comes up with the idea to bring Gloria to a robot factory so she would see that they have no actual feelings and are just machines. At the factory Mr. Weston had a plan to reunite Gloria and Robbie, of course without Mrs. Weston’s approval.
After Gloria is saved by Robbie in a fatal accident, Mrs. Weston finally agrees to let Gloria keep Robbie.”Runaround” In this short story two astronauts, Powell and Donovan, and a robot named Speedy go to Mercury to restart a mining facility which had been previously abandoned. Once they get to the station they realize that the photocell banks which provide energy to the facility will run out of selenium soon. After further deliberation, they determine that they can send Speedy to a selenium pool over fifteen miles away because of his heat resistance. After not returning for five hours, the two astronauts grow worried and use a different robot to find out what happened to Speedy. At the selenium pool they find Speedy running in circles as if he was malfunctioning. Powell then realizes that the selenium had a negative effect on him and is causing him to malfunction.
After Speedy failed to heed Powell’s command, he failed to adhere to the second law. They then realize that the Speedy’s third law is much stronger than average because it is a more expensive robot. Therefore it was unable to decide whether to listen to the second or third law. Powell then comes up with the idea to bring the first law into play and attempts to go out into the scorching heat of Mercury which will hopefully bring back Speedy. In the end Speedy safely returned to the facility and the photocells were repaired.”Reason” This short story reintroduces and includes Powell and Donovan from the previous chapter.
However in this story they are sent to a space station that send power to other planets using energy waves. To control these waves, a robot known as Cutie controls other robots that direct the waves. This requires Cutie to be highly intelligent which leads it to believe that anything beyond the station don’t exist and humans are inferior and dispensable. Cutie then controls the robots and makes them form a religion that calls the power source of the ship Master. With a solar storm quickly approaching that could lead to deaths due to the rays, the two astronauts try to revert and remove Cutie from the position it created. However when the storm hits, they find out that the rays were perfectly and no one died.
The astronauts then realized that Cutie was following the laws after all without even knowing it. To Cutie, it was more suited to control the space station then the two astronauts. So instead of handing over the controls which could possibly lead to human deaths it instead created a situation where it had full control. With no need to fix the problem Powell and Donovan leave because Cutie will be able to perform its job without any flaws.”Catch That Rabbit” This short story also utilizes the characters from the previous chapters except in this story the two astronauts are experimenting with a new robot on a mining station. This new robot essentially controls six other robots which are called fingers, but when humans are not there it stops mining ore.
The two astronauts then watch the robot without it knowing, noticing that it starts to malfunction when an abrupt issue comes up. To see what is causing the issue, the astronauts formulate a situation in which they will be able to determine what is causing the robot to glitch. In doing so, they unexpectedly trap themselves in a cave. Fortunately, they find out that the robot is glitching because it does not have the capabilities to control the six robots independently.
Once they determine this they destroy one of the robots which then allows the main robot to control the rest of the fingers and save them from the dire situation.”Liar”