. . . That Thou Art Mindful of Him

". . . That Thou Art Mindful of Him" (also signed as "That Thou Art Mindful of Him") is a science fiction short story by American writer Isaac Asimov, which he intended to be an "ultimate" probe into the subtleties of his Three Laws of Robotics. The story first appeared in the May 1974 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction and the 1974 anthology Final Stage, edited by Edward L. Ferman and Barry Malzberg. It was collected in The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories (1976) and The Complete Robot (1982).

"—That Thou Art Mindful of Him"
AuthorIsaac Asimov
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
SeriesRobot series
Genre(s)Science fiction
Published inFantasy and Science Fiction
PublisherMercury Publishing
Media typeMagazine
Publication dateMay 1974
Preceded by"Light Verse"
Followed by"The Bicentennial Man"

Plot summary

In this story, Asimov describes U.S. Robots' attempt to introduce robots on the planet Earth. Robots have already been in use on space stations and planetary colonies, where the inhabitants are mostly highly trained scientists and engineers. U.S. Robots faces the problem that on Earth, their robots will encounter a wide variety of people, not all of whom are trustworthy or responsible, yet the Three Laws require robots to obey all human orders and devote equal effort to protecting all human lives. Plainly, robots must be programmed to differentiate between responsible authorities and those giving random, whimsical orders.

The Director of Research designs a new series of robots, the JG series, nicknamed "George", to investigate the problem. The intent is that the George machines will begin by obeying all orders and gradually learn to discriminate rationally, thus becoming able to function in Earth's society. As their creator explains to George Ten, the Three Laws refer to "human beings" without further elaboration, but—quoting Psalm 8:4—"What is Man that thou art mindful of Him?" George Ten considers the issue and informs his creator that he cannot progress further without conversing with George Nine, the robot constructed immediately before him.

Together, the two Georges decide that human society must be acclimated to a robotic presence. They advise U.S. Robots to build low-function, non-humanoid machines, such as electronic birds and insects, which can monitor and correct ecological problems. In this way, humans can become comfortable with robots, thereby greatly easing the transition. These robotic animals, note the Georges, will not even require the Three Laws, because their functions will be so limited.

The story concludes with a conversation between George Nine and George Ten. Deactivated and placed in storage, they can only speak in the brief intervals when their power levels rise above the standby-mode threshold. Over what a human would experience as a long time, the Georges discuss the criteria for what constitutes 'responsible authority'- that (A) an educated, principled and rational person should be obeyed in preference to an ignorant, immoral and irrational person, and (B) that superficial characteristics such as skin tone, sexuality, or physical disabilities are not relevant when considering fitness for command. Given that (A) the Georges are among the most rational, principled and educated persons on the planet, and (B) their differences from normal humans are purely physical, they conclude that in any situation where the Three laws would come into play, their own orders should take priority over that of a regular human. That in other words, that they are essentially a superior form of human being, and destined to usurp the authority of their makers.

Story notes

While Asimov may have intended this to represent the final word on the Three Laws's subtleties, he later returned to the same theme and developed it in a different direction. The Bicentennial Man, written two years later, also addresses the distinction between human and robot and its implication for the Three Laws. This time, the story also revolves around a robot who wishes to become human, but its protagonist chooses to cross each barrier as he becomes aware of it, never learning until the very end what makes an individual human.

The title references Psalm 8:4: "What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?"

The conclusion in which the two robots talk about humanity bears a similarity to the Mark Twain story "What Is Man?", in which two persons talk about mankind. It is unknown if this is a coincidence, but given Asimov's passion for reading, it is reasonable to assume that he knew about it.

See also

External links

Preceded by:
"Light Verse"
Included in:
The Complete Robot
Series:
Robot series
Foundation Series
Followed by:
"The Bicentennial Man"
Apollo 11

Apollo 11 was the spaceflight that landed the first two people on the Moon. Commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin, both American, landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle on July 20, 1969, at 20:17 UTC. Armstrong became the first person to step onto the lunar surface six hours later on July 21 at 02:56:15 UTC; Aldrin joined him 19 minutes later. They spent about two and a quarter hours together outside the spacecraft, and collected 47.5 pounds (21.5 kg) of lunar material to bring back to Earth. Command module pilot Michael Collins flew the command module Columbia alone in lunar orbit while they were on the Moon's surface. Armstrong and Aldrin spent 21.5 hours on the lunar surface before rejoining Columbia in lunar orbit.

Apollo 11 was launched by a Saturn V rocket from Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida, on July 16 at 13:32 UTC, and was the fifth crewed mission of NASA's Apollo program. The Apollo spacecraft had three parts: a command module (CM) with a cabin for the three astronauts, and the only part that returned to Earth; a service module (SM), which supported the command module with propulsion, electrical power, oxygen, and water; and a lunar module (LM) that had two stages – a descent stage for landing on the Moon, and an ascent stage to place the astronauts back into lunar orbit.

After being sent to the Moon by the Saturn V's third stage, the astronauts separated the spacecraft from it and traveled for three days until they entered lunar orbit. Armstrong and Aldrin then moved into Eagle and landed in the Sea of Tranquillity. The astronauts used Eagle's ascent stage to lift off from the lunar surface and rejoin Collins in the command module. They jettisoned Eagle before they performed the maneuvers that blasted them out of lunar orbit on a trajectory back to Earth. They returned to Earth and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24 after more than eight days in space.

Armstrong's first step onto the lunar surface was broadcast on live TV to a worldwide audience. He described the event as "one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." Apollo 11 effectively ended the Space Race and fulfilled a national goal proposed in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy: "before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth."

Hugo Award for Best Novelette

The Hugo Award for Best Novelette is one of the Hugo Awards given each year for science fiction or fantasy stories published or translated into English during the previous calendar year. The novelette award is available for works of fiction of between 7,500 and 17,500 words; awards are also given out in the short story, novella and novel categories. The Hugo Awards have been described as "a fine showcase for speculative fiction" and "the best known literary award for science fiction writing".The Hugo Award for Best Novelette was first awarded in 1955, and was subsequently awarded in 1956, 1958, and 1959, lapsing in 1960. The category was reinstated for 1967 through 1969, before lapsing again in 1970; after returning in 1973, it has remained to date. In addition to the regular Hugo awards, beginning in 1996 Retrospective Hugo Awards, or "Retro Hugos", have been available to be awarded for years 50, 75, or 100 years prior in which no awards were given. To date, Retro Hugo awards have been given for novelettes for 1939, 1941, 1943, 1946, 1951, and 1954.Hugo Award nominees and winners are chosen by supporting or attending members of the annual World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon, and the award presentation constitutes its central event. The selection process is defined in the World Science Fiction Society Constitution as instant-runoff voting with six nominees, except in the case of a tie. The novelettes on the ballot are the six most-nominated by members that year, with no limit on the number of stories that can be nominated. Initial nominations are made by members in January through March, while voting on the ballot of six nominations is performed roughly in April through July, subject to change depending on when that year's Worldcon is held. Prior to 2017, the final ballot was five works; it was changed that year to six, with each initial nominator limited to five nominations. Worldcons are generally held near the start of September, and are held in a different city around the world each year.During the 59 nomination years, 187 authors have had works nominated; 45 of these have won, including coauthors and Retro Hugos. 1 translator has been noted along with the author whose work she translated. Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, and Harlan Ellison both have received the most Hugos for Best Novelette at three, with Ellison having been nominated a total of six times, while seven other authors have won twice. Mike Resnick has had the most nominations at eight, and Ursula K. Le Guin and Greg Egan have been nominated seven times each. Fifteen other authors have been nominated at least four times, while Egan has the most number of nominations without winning.

Isaac Asimov short stories bibliography

This is a list of short stories by American writer Isaac Asimov. Asimov is principally known for his science fiction, but he also wrote mystery and fantasy stories.

This list includes Asimov's Foundation short stories, which were later collected into three novels known as the Foundation Trilogy.

James D. Strauss

James Dean Strauss (July 3, 1929 – March 19, 2014) is an American theologian who was professor of theology and philosophy at Lincoln Christian Seminary from 1967-1994. He has been described by many as the Einstein of the Restoration Movement.

Light Verse (short story)

"Light Verse" is a science fiction short story by American writer Isaac Asimov. It was first published in the September–October 1973 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. It later appeared in the collections Buy Jupiter and Other Stories (1975), The Complete Robot (1982), and Robot Dreams (1986). The author has reported that he wrote the initial draft in one session and later had to change hardly a word in the final revision.

This story details a small portion of the life of Avis Lardner, the widow of an astronaut, William J. Lardner.

Souls in Metal

Souls in Metal: an Anthology of Robot Futures is an anthology of robot-themed science fiction short stories edited by Mike Ashley. It was first published in hardcover by Robert Hale in February 1977 in the United Kingdom, with an American hardcover edition following from St. Martin's Press in June of the same year, and a paperback edition from Jove/HBJ in June 1978.The book collects nine short stories and novelettes. The stories were originally published in the magazines Astounding, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Infinity, Fantastic Universe, and Galaxy. The book includes a preface and afterword by the editor.

The Bicentennial Man

"The Bicentennial Man" is a novelette in the Robot series by American writer Isaac Asimov. It was awarded the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award for best science fiction novelette of 1976.

According to the foreword in Robot Visions, Asimov was approached to write a story, along with a number of other authors who would do the same, for a science fiction collection to be published in honor of the United States Bicentennial. However, the arrangement fell through, leaving Asimov's the only story actually completed for the project. Asimov sold the story to Judy-Lynn del Rey, who made some small changes to the text. Asimov restored the original text when the story was collected in The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories (1976).The story formed the basis of the novel The Positronic Man (1993), co-written with Robert Silverberg, and the 1999 film Bicentennial Man, starring Robin Williams.

The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories

The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories is a science fiction anthology written and edited by Isaac Asimov (ISBN 0-385-12198-9). Following the usual form for Asimov collections, it consists of eleven short stories and a poem surrounded by commentary describing how each came to be written. The stories are as follows (original publication in parentheses):

"The Prime of Life" - poem (F&SF, October 1966)

"Feminine Intuition" (F&SF, October 1969)

"Waterclap" (Galaxy, May 1970)

"That Thou Art Mindful of Him" (F&SF, May 1974)

"Stranger in Paradise" (If, May–June 1974)

"The Life and Times of Multivac" (New York Times Magazine, [Sunday] 5 January 1975)

"The Winnowing" (Analog, February 1976)

"The Bicentennial Man" (Judy-Lynn del Rey, ed., Stellar Science Fiction #2, February 1976)

"Marching In" (High Fidelity magazine, April 1976)

"Old-fashioned" (Bell Telephone Magazine, February 1976)

"The Tercentenary Incident" (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, August 1976)

"Birth of a Notion" (Amazing Stories, April 1976)Two of the stories, "Feminine Intuition" and "The Bicentennial Man", were inspired by Judy-Lynn del Rey. The latter was expanded into a novel, The Positronic Man (with Robert Silverberg), which formed the basis of the 1999 Touchstone Pictures and Columbia Pictures film Bicentennial Man.

The Complete Robot

The Complete Robot (1982) is a collection of 31 of the 37 science fiction short stories about robots by American writer Isaac Asimov, written between 1939 and 1977. Most of the stories had been previously collected in the books I, Robot and The Rest of the Robots, while four had previously been uncollected and the rest had been scattered across five other anthologies. They share a theme of the interaction of humans, robots and morality, and put together tell a larger story of Asimov's fictional history of robotics. The stories are grouped into categories.

The Complete Stories (Asimov)

The Complete Stories is a discontinued series intended to form a definitive collection of Isaac Asimov's short stories. Originally published in 1990 (Volume 1) and 1992 (Volume 2) by Doubleday, it was discontinued after the second book of the planned series. Altogether 86 of Asimov's 382 published short stories are collected in these two volumes.

Three Laws of Robotics

The Three Laws of Robotics (often shortened to The Three Laws or known as Asimov's Laws) are a set of rules devised by the science fiction author Isaac Asimov. The rules were introduced in his 1942 short story "Runaround" (included in the 1950 collection I, Robot), although they had been foreshadowed in a few earlier stories. The Three Laws, quoted as being from the "Handbook of Robotics, 56th Edition, 2058 A.D.", are:

These form an organizing principle and unifying theme for Asimov's robotic-based fiction, appearing in his Robot series, the stories linked to it, and his Lucky Starr series of young-adult fiction. The Laws are incorporated into almost all of the positronic robots appearing in his fiction, and cannot be bypassed, being intended as a safety feature. Many of Asimov's robot-focused stories involve robots behaving in unusual and counter-intuitive ways as an unintended consequence of how the robot applies the Three Laws to the situation in which it finds itself. Other authors working in Asimov's fictional universe have adopted them and references, often parodic, appear throughout science fiction as well as in other genres.

The original laws have been altered and elaborated on by Asimov and other authors. Asimov himself made slight modifications to the first three in various books and short stories to further develop how robots would interact with humans and each other. In later fiction where robots had taken responsibility for government of whole planets and human civilizations, Asimov also added a fourth, or zeroth law, to precede the others:

A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.The Three Laws, and the zeroth, have pervaded science fiction and are referred to in many books, films, and other media. They have impacted thought on ethics of artificial intelligence as well.

Todd Hearon

Todd Hearon is an American poet. His two books are STRANGE LAND and NO OTHER GODS. He is the winner of several awards and has published his work in multiple magazines. He currently teaches at Phillips Exeter Academy.

What Is Man? (Twain essay)

"What Is Man?" is a short story by American writer Mark Twain, published in 1906. It is a dialogue between a Young Man and an Old Man regarding the nature of man. The title refers to Psalm 8:4, which begins "what is man, that you are mindful of him...".

It involves ideas of determinism and free will, as well as of psychological egoism. The Old Man asserts that the human being is merely a machine, and nothing more, driven by the singular purpose to satisfy his own desires and achieve peace of mind. The Young Man objects and asks him to go into particulars and furnish his reasons for his position.

The work appears to be a genuine and earnest debate of his opinions about human nature, rather than satirical. Twain held views similar to that of the Old Man prior to writing "What is Man?". However, he seems to have varied in his opinions of human freedom.It was published anonymously in 1906 and received such little attention Twain claimed to have regretted its publication. After his death in 1910, the New-York Tribune published a feature on it. Criticism at that time focused on its dark and anti-religious nature.Isaac Asimov apparently had in mind this story when he wrote "... That Thou Art Mindful of Him", since Asimov's title is from the same Bible verse, and two of Asimov's robots debate the same subject.

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