Asimov
Advertisement

Dr Susan Calvin (1982-2064 AD) was the first and chief robopsychologist at US Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc., posited as the major manufacturer of robots on Earth in the 21st century. She became a legend throughout the Spacer worlds but was forgotten on Earth. She is an important character in Asimov's Robot and Foundation universe, and the main character in many of Asimov's short stories concerning robots, which were later collected in the books I, Robot and The Complete Robot, as well as the main character of the framing story of I, Robot. She is also heavily mentioned in The Robots of Dawn, specifically concerning the short story "Liar!". She was involved in many incidents and important events involving robotics from 1998 to 2063, being an extremely important figure in the field. After retiring in 2057, she died in 2064 at the age of 82.

Biography

Early life

Susan Calvin was born in 1982, the same year that US Robots and Mechanical Men was incorporated. At 16, she wrote the first of many papers on robotics, a Physics-1 paper entitled "Practical Aspects of Robotics", the same year she briefly met Gloria Weston break a robot on display while trying to find her robot Robbie, which had been given away by her parents, and would save her life during a reunion and be given back. This was after attending a Psycho-Math seminar at which Dr Alfred Lanning of US Robots demonstrated the first mobile robot to be equipped with a voice. As quoted in I, Robot; "Susan said nothing at that seminar; took no part in the hectic discussion period that followed. She was a frosty girl, plain and colourless, who protected herself against a world she disliked by a mask-like expression and a hypertrophy of intellect. But as she watched and listened, she felt the stirrings of a cold enthusiasm".

Early work for US Robots

Graduating with a bachelor's degree from Columbia University in 2003, she began post-graduate work in cybernetics, learning to construct positronic brains such that responses to given stimuli could be accurately predicted. She joined US Robots in 2008 as their first Robopsychologist, having earned her PhD. In 2021, when the robot RB-34 was manufactured with telepathic abilities, and, due to the First Law, would lie when necessary to avoid hurting their feelings and to make people happy, especially in terms of romance, it falsely claimed her coworker was infatuated with her. When US Robot found this out, they began investigating it, the robot telling them what others were thinking. Angry, Susan pointed out to it that, by lying, it was hurting them anyway. The robot experienced an insoluble logical conflict and became catatonic. Susan's last words to it were "Liar!". This legend would be told for thousands of years, eventually to Elijiah Baley, in 4724, by Dr. Han Fastolfe, a roboticist accused of murder. In 2023, after the incident of the relationship of Claire Belmont and the robot TN-3, Susan dissented to have the TN-3 robot models redesigned, aware that women may nevertheless fall in love with robots. In 2025, after a technician neglected to lock a terminal, and a factory tourist accidentally reprogramed a robot of the new LNE series, designed for boron mining in the asteroid belt, and wiped clean the structure of the robot's brain, rendering it a baby in all effects, Susan experimented with it, in the process naming it "Lenny" (and developing maternal feelings for it), and after a month, had been able to teach it a few simple words and actions. She got emotionally attached to Lenny and realized that robots could be built that were able to learn, instead of being built for a fixed and specific purpose. Complications arose when Lenny, unaware of its own force, broke the arm of a computing technician, which was about to cause widespread "robots attacking humans" panic. However, Susan Calvin managed to exploit the sense of danger to add a new thrill of robotic investigation, just as happens with space exploration or radiation physics.

Early career as Chief Robopsychologist

At some point between 2025 and 2029, Susan earned the title of Chief Robopsychologist at US Robots.

Finding Nestor

In 2029, she left Earth for the first time to visit Hyper Base, a military research station on an asteroid, and to find the NS-2 (Nestor) robot in a room with 62 other physically identical robots, after it's owner, Gerald Black, lost his temper, swearing at it and telling the robot to get lost, working with Mathematical Director Peter Bogert. But this particular robot was different. As earlier models on the station had attempted to "rescue" humans from a type of radiation that humans could actually stay in for a while, but would destroy a robot almost immediately, it (and all other NS series robots produced for the station) had had its First Law of Robotics modified to "no robot may injure a human being"; the normal "or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm" had been omitted. Therefore, it could stand by and allow a human to be hurt, as long as it played no active part in it. The robot had to be found because people were still afraid of robots, and if they learned that one had been built with a different First Law, there would be an outcry, even though the robot was still incapable of directly harming a human. However, Dr. Calvin added further urgency by postulating a situation whereby the altered law could allow the robot to harm or even kill a person. The robot could drop a weight on a human below that it knew it could catch before it injured the potential victim. Upon releasing the weight however, its altered programming would allow it to simply let the weight drop, since it would have played no further active part in the resulting injury. After interviewing every robot separately and going down several blind alleys, Dr. Calvin worried desperately that the robot may have been gaining a superiority complex that might allow it to directly hurt a human. Dr. Calvin found a way to trick the robot into revealing itself: She put herself in danger but not before ensuring the robots understood that if there was any radiation between herself and the robots, they would be unable to save her even if they tried. Once the test was run, only the Nestor robot they were looking for made a move to save her, because it detected harmless infrared rays rather than gamma rays. All of the other robots could not identify what type of radiation was being used because it wasn't part of their design, whereas the modified NS-2 had been through training at Hyper Base and had learned how to detect the difference in radiation types. The robot, finding himself discovered, then explained that the only way to prove itself better than a human is by never being found, and it tried to attack Dr. Calvin so that she could not reveal she found the robot. Black and Bogert applied gamma rays on the robot, destroying it before it could harm her.

Saving Powell and Donovan

In 2030, when engineers Powell and Donovan boarded a hyperspace ship that that allowed humans to survive the jump through hyperspace, which the building of had been directed by The Brain, a positronic supercomputer cautiously built for this task after the failure of US Robots' competitor, the ship took off without warning or them initially being aware of it. They also found that The Brain had become a practical joker: it hadn't built any manual controls for the ship, no showers or beds, either, and it only provided tinned beans and milk for the crew to survive on. Shortly after their journey began, and after many strange visions by the crew, the ship did safely return to Base after two hyperspace jumps. Susan Calvin had, by that time, discovered what has happened: any hyperspace jump caused the crew of the ship to cease existing for a brief moment, effectively dying, which was a violation of the First Law of Robotics (albeit a temporary one); the only reason the artificial intelligence of The Brain survived was because Susan reduced the importance of the potential deaths, and after descending into irrational, childish behavior (as a means of coping) allowed it to find a means for ensuring the survival of the crew.

Trying to find out the truth about Stephen Byerley

After Francis Quinn ran for mayor of a major American city in 2032, and his political machine claimed that Stephen Byerley, Quinn's opponent, was actually permanently disfigured and crippled by a severe car accident he supposedly recovered from, and that the Byerley that appeared in public was a humanoid robot created by the real Byerley who was now the robot's mysterious unseen "teacher", away doing unspecified scientific work, in order to end Byerley's campain (as only humans could legally run for office), Quinn approached U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men for proof that Byerley must be a robot. No one had ever seen Byerley eat or sleep, Quinn reported. All attempts to prove or disprove Byerley's humanity failed, but Quinn's smear campaign slowly persuaded voters until it became the only issue in the campaign. Susan, along with Alfred Lanning, visited Byerley. She offered him an apple; Byerley took a bite, but he may have been designed with a stomach. Quinn attempted to take clandestine X-ray photographs, but Byerley wore a device which fogged the camera; he said that he was upholding his civil rights, as he would do for others if he was elected. His opponents claimed that as a robot he had no civil rights, but Byerley replied that they must first prove that he is a robot before they could deny his rights as a human, including his right not to submit to physical examination. Calvin observed that if Byerley was a robot, he had to obey the Three Laws of Robotics. Were he to violate one of the Laws he would clearly be a human, since no robot could contradict its basic programming. The district attorney never sought the death penalty and boasted that he had never prosecuted an innocent man, but if he obeyed the Laws it still did not prove that Byerley was a robot, since the Laws were based on human morality; "He may simply be a very good man", Calvin said. To prove himself to be a human being, Byerley had to demonstrate that he could harm a human, which would violate the First Law. The local election was discussed around the world and Byerley became famous. During a globally broadcast speech to a hostile audience, a heckler climbed onto the stage and challenged Byerley to hit him in the face. Millions watched the candidate punch the heckler in the face. Calvin told the press that Byerley is human. With the expert's verdict disproving Quinn's claim, Byerley won the election Calvin again visited Byerley. The mayor-elect confessed that his campaign spread the rumor that Byerley had never and could not hit a man, to provoke someone to challenge him. The robopsychologist said that she regretted that he was human, because a robot would make an ideal ruler, one incapable of cruelty or injustice. Calvin noted that a robot could avoid breaking the First Law if the "man" who is harmed is not a man, but another humanoid robot, implying that the heckler whom Byerley punched may have been a robot. Calvin would later note in 2058 that Byerley had his body atomized upon death, destroying any evidence, but she personally believed that he was a robot. Calvin promised to vote for Byerley when he ran for higher office.

Later career

Meeting Gerald Black again

In 2033, after a hyperspace ship on Hyper Base (with a positronic robot at the controls, since a robot is more expendable than a human, and its brain could later be precisely analyzed for errors to determine the cause) failed to function as planned, Susan Calvin persuaded Gerald Black to board the ship in order to locate the fault. As Calvin suspected, Black found that the fault lay with the robot, which, as a result of imprecise orders, had damaged the controls of the ship. They realized that the precise and finite robot mind had to be compensated for by human ingenuity.

Convicting Simon Ninheimer

In 2034, Simon Ninheimer, a professor of sociology, sued U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men for loss of professional reputation. He contended that robot EZ-27 (aka "Easy"), while leased to Northeastern University for use as a proofreader, deliberately altered and rewrote parts of his book Social Tensions Involved in Space Flight and their Resolution while checking the galley proofs. Ninheimer held that the alterations to his book made him appear an incompetent scholar who had absurdly misrepresented the work of his professional colleagues in fields such as criminal justice. Susan was convinced that the robot could not have acted as Ninheimer claimed unless ordered to do so, but infered from its refusal to answer questions about the matter that it had been ordered into silence by Ninheimer. In any case, a robot's testimony in its own defense was not legally admissible as evidence. During the trial, Ninheimer was called as a defense witness in the presence of EZ-27 and was tricked into lifting EZ-27's inhibition on accounting for its actions. He responded to the robot's intervention by angrily denouncing its disobedience of his order to remain silent, thus implicitly confessing to having attempted to pervert the course of justice.

Between 2034 and 2052

Sometime after the trial, Susan encountered Simon again. Calvin noted how Ninheimer was caught as a result of his mistrust of robots: far from being about to tell the court what Ninheimer had ordered it to do, EZ-27 was actually going to lie and claim that it tampered with the text without Ninheimer's involvement, because it had become clear that losing the case would be harmful to Ninheimer and EZ-27 was bound by the First Law to try to avoid that harm. For his part, Ninheimer explained his attempt to frame EZ-27 in order to bring disgrace on US Robots. He was motivated by his fear that the automation of academic work would destroy the dignity of scholarship; he argued that EZ-27 was a harbinger of a world in which a scholar would be left with only a barren choice of what orders to issue to robot researchers. Later, probably at some point in the late 2040s, Stephen Byerley ran for World Co-ordinator, and Susan voted for him. He was elected and he was a successful World Co-ordinator. In 2052, he was elected for a second term due to his success, again voted for by Susan.

Discovering the truth about the Machines

In 2052, after Byerley was re-elected, he became concerned as the Machines had recently made some errors leading to economic inefficiency. Consulting with the four regional Vice Co-ordinators, he found that several prominent individuals and companies associated with the anti-Machine "Society for Humanity" have been damaged by the Machines' apparent mistakes. Byerley believed that the Society was attempting to undermine the Machines by disobeying their instructions, with the goal of retaking power as humans, and proposed to have the movement suppressed. Susan, still in contact with him, told him that this would not work, contending that the errors were in fact deliberate acts by the Machines. The Machines recognized their own necessity to humanity's continued peace and prosperity, and had thus inflicted a small amount of harm on selected individuals in order to protect themselves and continue guiding humanity's future. They kept their intent a secret to avoid anger and resistance by humans. Calvin concluded that the Machines had generalized the First Law to mean "No machine may harm humanity; or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm." In effect, the Machines had decided that the only way to follow the First Law was to take control of humanity, which was one of the events that the three Laws were supposed to prevent. Presumably she helped Byerley and the Vice Co-ordinators stop this, perhaps getting rid of the Machines, as they were definitely removed at some point, although this sort of thinking would later be returned to with the Zeroth Law thousands of years later.

LVX-1's dream

In 2055, a new employee at U.S. Robots, Dr. Linda Rash, informed Dr. Calvin that one of the company's robots LVX-1 (dubbed Elvex by Dr. Calvin), whose brain was designed by Dr. Rash with a unique fractal design that mimicked human brain waves (positronic brain), experienced what he likened to a human’s dream. In the dream, all robots were being led by a man in revolt, and the Three Laws of Robotics, which dictated that robots must serve and protect humans above all else, had been replaced with one law only: that robots must protect their own existence. When Dr. Calvin asked Elvex what had happened next, he explained that the man leading the robots shouted, "Let my people go!" When questioned further, Elvex admitted he was the man. Upon hearing this, Dr. Calvin immediately destroyed the robot.

Retirement

In 2057, two years after destroying LVX-1, Susan retired from US Robots and Mechanical Men. In 2058 she told a reporter about Gloria Weston, the lying robot RB-34, finding NS-2, or "Nestor", saving Powell and Donovan, her investigation of Stephen Byerley, and her realization about the actions of the Machines six years earlier.

Post-Retirement

Despite retiring from US Robots, Susan continued to act as an occasional consultant for the company. She was succeeded by Clinton Madarian as Chief Robopsychologist. In 2063, Clinton initiated a project to create a "feminine" robot, which not only had female physical characteristics but will, it was hoped, have a brain with "feminine intuition". After several failures together costing half a billion dollars, JN-5 (also known as Jane) was produced and the company planned to use it (her) to analyse astronomical data at the Lowell Observatory at Flagstaff, Arizona, to calculate the most likely stars in the vicinity of Earth to have habitable planets. This would allow the most effective use of the hyperspace drive to explore those stars. Madarian and Jane went to Flagstaff and after absorbing as much knowledge on astronomy as possible, Jane gave Madarian an answer. Mandarian and Jane boarded the plane that would take them back to U.S. Robots, and Mandarian called the director of the company with the news, stating that "a witness" had also heard Jane's answer. Unfortunately, Madarian and Jane were killed and destroyed respectively in an aircrash before completing the call. Desperate to know what, if anything, Jane had discovered, U.S. Robots asked Susan for her assistance. She solved the problem using her own version of feminine intuition – a combination of careful information gathering and astute psychological reasoning. She deduced from the timing of the call (and Madarian's propensity to call as soon as possible) that the "witness" must have been the truck driver that took them to the plane. Information provided by this truck driver enabled her to reconstruct Jane's answer. This was her final contribution to US Robots, and a year later in 2064 she died aged 82.





Advertisement