Positronic brain

A positronic brain is a fictional technological device, originally conceived by science fiction writer Isaac Asimov.[1][2] It functions as a central processing unit (CPU) for robots, and, in some unspecified way, provides them with a form of consciousness recognizable to humans. When Asimov wrote his first robot stories in 1939 and 1940, the positron was a newly discovered particle, and so the buzz word positronic added a contemporary gloss of popular science to the concept. The short story "Runaround", by Asimov, elaborates on the concept, in the context of his fictional Three Laws of Robotics.

Conceptual overview

Asimov remained vague about the technical details of positronic brains except to assert that their substructure was formed from an alloy of platinum and iridium. They were said to be vulnerable to radiation and apparently involve a type of volatile memory (since robots in storage required a power source keeping their brains "alive"). The focus of Asimov's stories was directed more towards the software of robots—such as the Three Laws of Robotics—than the hardware in which it was implemented, although it is stated in his stories that to create a positronic brain without the Three Laws, it would have been necessary to spend years redesigning the fundamental approach towards the brain itself.

Within his stories of robotics on Earth and their development by U.S. Robots, Asimov's positronic brain is less of a plot device and more of a technological item worthy of study.

A positronic brain cannot ordinarily be built without incorporating the Three Laws; any modification thereof would drastically modify robot behavior. Behavioral dilemmas resulting from conflicting potentials set by inexperienced and/or malicious users of the robot for the Three Laws make up the bulk of Asimov's stories concerning robots. They are resolved by applying the science of logic and psychology together with mathematics, the supreme solution finder being Dr. Susan Calvin, Chief Robopsychologist of U.S. Robots.

The Three Laws are also a bottleneck in brain sophistication. Very complex brains designed to handle world economy interpret the First Law in expanded sense to include humanity as opposed to a single human; in Asimov's later works like Robots and Empire this is referred to as the "Zeroth Law". At least one brain constructed as a calculating machine, as opposed to being a robot control circuit, was designed to have a flexible, childlike personality so that it was able to pursue difficult problems without the Three Laws inhibiting it completely. Specialized brains created for overseeing world economics were stated to have no personality at all.

Under specific conditions, the Three Laws can be obviated, with the modification of the actual robotic design.

  • Robots that are of low enough value can have the Third Law deleted; they do not have to protect themselves from harm, and the brain size can be reduced by half.
  • Robots that do not require orders from a human being may have the Second Law deleted, and therefore require smaller brains again, providing they do not require the Third Law.
  • Robots that are disposable, cannot receive orders from a human being and are not able to harm a human, will not require even the First Law. The sophistication of positronic circuitry renders a brain so small that it could comfortably fit within the skull of an insect.

Robots of the aforementioned last type directly parallel contemporary industrial robotics practice, though real-life robots do contain safety sensors and systems, in a concern for human safety (a weak form of the First Law; the robot is a safe tool to use, but has no "judgment", which is implicit in Asimov's own stories).

In Allen's trilogy

Several robot stories have been written by other authors following Asimov's death. For example, in Roger MacBride Allen's Caliban trilogy, a Spacer roboticist called Gubber Anshaw invents the gravitonic brain. It offers speed and capacity improvements over traditional positronic designs, but the strong influence of tradition make robotics labs reject Anshaw's work. Only one roboticist, Fredda Leving, chooses to adopt gravitonics, because it offers her a blank slate on which she could explore alternatives to the Three Laws. Because they are not dependent upon centuries of earlier research, gravitonic brains can be programmed with the standard Laws, variations of the Laws, or even empty pathways which specify no Laws at all.

References in other fiction and films

Abbott and Costello Go To Mars

When Queen Allura of Venus (Mari Blanchard) puts Orville (Lou Costello) to a lie detector test in an ESP-enabled crystal chair, she states that it is "based on the principle of the Positronic Brain."

The Avengers

In a mini story entitled "Night Vision!" in Annual #6 of the Marvel comic, writer Scot Edelman refers to the brain of the synthezoid "The Vision" as positronic. The Vision had a complicated history, being born of the dead android body of the original Human Torch, and the mind of the dead human Wonder Man, not to mention being programmed to be a killing machine by the armageddon-happy sentient robot Ultron, who in his turn had been inadvertently created by scientist Henry Pym, originally as a lab assistant. He overcame his programming and became a hero, but The Vision was always alternately coldly logical and given to violent emotion, and was able to break all three laws.

Doctor Who

In the third season (1965–66) Doctor Who story "The Chase", the Mechanoids that the Daleks, a race of armed robotic tank shells with organic operators, face on the planet Mechanus are described to be controlled by an internal positronic brain.

In the fourth season (1966–67) Doctor Who story "The Power of the Daleks", second incarnation of the Doctor, played by Patrick Troughton, awakens from his first regeneration and eventually faces one of his old nemeses, the Daleks. Human space colonists examine "dead" Daleks and, upon their re-activation, conjecture as to "what sort of positronic brain must this device possess". However, the Daleks are actually organic life-forms that were encased in robotic shells, and thus do not possess the purported positronic brain and, in any case, do not obey the Three Laws of Robotics.

In the seventeenth season (1979–80) story "The Horns of Nimon", the fourth incarnation of the Doctor, played by Tom Baker, recognizes the Labyrinth-like building complex that serves as the lair of the Nimons as resembling both physically and functionally a "giant positronic circuit". When adequately fueled, the circuit was capable of transferring massive amounts of energy over vast distances to generate two black holes as gateways to hyperspace and to sustain a tunnel that served as the motive power between them for the transport of an invading force of Nimons from the dying planet Crinoth to Skonnos.

In the fifth series (2010) Doctor Who story "Victory of the Daleks", the Daleks create a human-cyborg scientist "Bracewell", that is implanted in to the British scientific community to develop technology for the war effort. The creation was said to be controlled by a positronic brain.

Star Trek

Several fictional characters in Star Trek: The Next GenerationLieutenant Commander Data, his "mother" Julianna Soong Tainer, his daughter Lal, and his brothers Lore and B-4—are androids equipped with positronic brains created by Dr. Noonien Soong.

None of these androids are constrained by Asimov's robot laws: Lore, lacking ethics and morals, kills indiscriminately; and Data, though his actions are restricted by ethical programming provided by his creator, is also capable of killing in situations where it is absolutely necessary (exactly what constitutes "absolutely necessary" also being determined by him). Also, Data is not required to obey all orders from humans. He only obeys orders in his duties as a Starfleet officer.

"Positronic implants" were used to replace lost function in Vedek Bareil's brain in the Deep Space 9 episode "Life Support".

Perry Rhodan

In the German science fiction series Perry Rhodan (written starting in 1961), positronic brains (German: Positroniken) are the main computer technology; for quite a time they are replaced by the more powerful Syntronics, but those stop working due to the increased Hyperimpedance. The most powerful positronic brain is called NATHAN and covers large parts of the Earth's moon. Many of the larger computers (including NATHAN) as well as the race of Posbis combine a biological component with the positronic brain, giving them sentience and creativity.

I, Robot, 2004 Film

The robots in the 2004 film I, Robot (loosely based upon several of Isaac Asimov's stories) also have positronic brains. Sonny, one of the main characters from the film, has two separate positronic brains—the second being a positronic "heart"—so it has choices open to him the other robots in the film do not have. Sonny also has the possibility of being able to develop emotions and a sense of right and wrong independent of the Three Laws of Robotics; it has the ability to choose not to obey them.

The film also features a colossal positronic brain, VIKI, who is bound by the Three Laws. Its interpretation of the laws allows VIKI to directly harm humans to protect humanity as a whole in an application of the Zeroth Law.

Bicentennial Man

The robots in the 1999 film Bicentennial Man (based on one of Asimov's stories) also have positronic brains, including the main character Andrew, an NDR series robot that starts to experience human characteristics such as creativity. Only when Andrew allows his positronic brain to "decay", thereby willfully abandoning his immortality, is he declared a human being.

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

Twiki and Crichton, two robotic characters who appear in the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century television series, were equipped with positronic brains. Crichton recited Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics" upon activation.

Mystery Science Theater 3000

In 1989, in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Season One episode The Corpse Vanishes, Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo read an issue of Tiger Bot magazine featuring an interview with the Star Trek character, Data. They then lament the fact that they don't have positronic brains like him.


In the second episode, Spectreman's robot head is found and viewers discover he is a robot with a positronic brain.


The game Stellaris features Positronic Artificial Intelligence as a possible research goal, which is employed with "Synthetics" (sentient robotic beings) and sentient computers for usage in research, administration, combat etc. [3] [4] [5] [6]


  1. ^ Isaac Asimov's Utopia at Google Books
  2. ^ I, Robot at Google Books
  3. ^ https://stellaris.paradoxwikis.com/Physics_research#Positronic_Implants
  4. ^ https://stellaris.paradoxwikis.com/Physics_research#Administrative_AI
  5. ^ https://stellaris.paradoxwikis.com/Physics_research#Sapient_Combat_Simulations
  6. ^ https://stellaris.paradoxwikis.com/Engineering_research#Synthetics_tech

External links

Data (Star Trek)

Data ( DAY-tə) is a character in the fictional Star Trek franchise. He appears in the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) and the feature films Star Trek Generations (1994), Star Trek: First Contact (1996), Star Trek: Insurrection (1998), and Star Trek: Nemesis (2002). Data is portrayed by actor Brent Spiner.

Data was found by Starfleet in 2338 as the sole survivor on Omicron Theta in the rubble of a colony left after an attack from the Crystalline Entity. He was a synthetic life form with artificial intelligence and designed and built by Doctor Noonien Soong in his own likeness (likewise portrayed by Spiner). Data is a self-aware, sapient, sentient and anatomically fully functional android who serves as the second officer and chief operations officer aboard the Federation starship USS Enterprise-D and later the USS Enterprise-E.

His positronic brain allows him impressive computational capabilities. He experienced ongoing difficulties during the early years of his life with understanding various aspects of human behavior and was unable to feel emotion or understand certain human idiosyncrasies, inspiring him to strive for his own humanity. This goal eventually led to the addition of an "emotion chip" created by Soong, to Data's positronic net. Although Data's endeavor to increase his humanity and desire for human emotional experience is a significant plot point (and source of humor) throughout the series, he consistently shows a nuanced sense of wisdom, sensitivity, and curiosity, garnering respect from his peers and colleagues.

Data is in many ways a successor to the original Star Trek's Spock (Leonard Nimoy), in that the character offers an "outsider's" perspective on humanity.

I, Robot

I, Robot is a fixup novel of science fiction short stories or essays by American writer Isaac Asimov. The stories originally appeared in the American magazines Super Science Stories and Astounding Science Fiction between 1940 and 1950 and were then compiled into a book for stand-alone publication by Gnome Press in 1950, in an initial edition of 5,000 copies. The stories are woven together by a framing narrative in which the fictional Dr. Susan Calvin tells each story to a reporter (who serves as the narrator) in the 21st century. Although the stories can be read separately, they share a theme of the interaction of humans, robots, and morality, and when combined they tell a larger story of Asimov's fictional history of robotics.

Several of the stories feature the character of Dr. Calvin, chief robopsychologist at U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc., the major manufacturer of robots. Upon their publication in this collection, Asimov wrote a framing sequence presenting the stories as Calvin's reminiscences during an interview with her about her life's work, chiefly concerned with aberrant behaviour of robots and the use of "robopsychology" to sort out what is happening in their positronic brain. The book also contains the short story in which Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics first appear, which had large influence on later science fiction and had impact on thought on ethics of artificial intelligence as well. Other characters that appear in these short stories are Powell and Donovan, a field-testing team which locates flaws in USRMM's prototype models.

The collection shares a title with the 1939 short story "I, Robot" by Eando Binder (pseudonym of Earl and Otto Binder), which greatly influenced Asimov. Asimov had wanted to call his collection Mind and Iron, and initially objected when the publisher made the title the same as Binder's. In his introduction to the story in Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories (1979), Asimov wrote:

It certainly caught my attention. Two months after I read it, I began 'Robbie', about a sympathetic robot, and that was the start of my positronic robot series. Eleven years later, when nine of my robot stories were collected into a book, the publisher named the collection I, Robot over my objections. My book is now the more famous, but Otto's story was there first.

Inquest of Pilot Pirx

Inquest of Pilot Pirx (Polish: Test pilota Pirxa, Russian: Дознание пилота Пиркса, translit. Doznaniye pilota Pirksa, Estonian: Navigaator Pirx) is a joint Polish-Soviet 1979 film directed by Marek Piestrak; it is based on the story "The Inquest" by Stanisław Lem from his 1968 short story collection Opowieści o pilocie Pirxie (Tales of Pirx the Pilot; the story was translated into English in the second part, More Tales of Pirx the Pilot). It was adapted for film by Vladimir Valutsky. It is a joint production by Zespoly Filmowe, and Tallinnfilm.

Isaac Asimov's Inferno

Isaac Asimov's Inferno (1994) is a science fiction novel by American writer Roger MacBride Allen, set in Isaac Asimov's Robot/Empire/Foundation universe.

Once Upon a Time... Space

Il était une fois… l'Espace (Once Upon a Time… Space) is a French/Japanese animated science fiction TV series from 1982, directed by Albert Barillé.

The series was animated in Japan by the animation studio Eiken, and is thus considered to be anime as it also aired on Japanese TV, albeit not until 1984, under the title Ginga Patrol PJ (銀河パトロールPJ, Galaxy Patrol PJ). In contrast to the show's success in the West, the series' Japanese broadcast was consigned to an early-morning time slot and attracted little attention.

Positron (disambiguation)

A positron is an elementary particle of antimatter.

Positron may also refer to:

Positron (City of Heroes), a character in City of Heroes

Positron (video game), the 1983 video game published by Micro Power

Positron! Records, a Chicago-based independent record label

Positron Corporation, an American[nuclear medicine healthcare company

"Positron", a 1993 trance track by Cygnus X

Positron, a bicycle shifting system from Shimano

Robot Dreams (short story)

"Robot Dreams" is a science fiction short story by American writer Isaac Asimov exploring the unbalance of robot/human relationships under Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics. It was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1987. It won the Locus Award for Best Short Story in 1987.

"Robot Dreams", along with 20 other short stories by Asimov, was published in Robot Dreams in 1986 by Berkley Books.

Robot series (Asimov)

The Robot series is a series of 38 science fiction short stories and five novels by American writer Isaac Asimov, featuring positronic robots.

Runaround (story)

"Runaround" is a science fiction short story by American writer Isaac Asimov, featuring his recurring characters Powell and Donovan. It was written in October 1941 and first published in the March 1942 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. It appears in the collections I, Robot (1950), The Complete Robot (1982), and Robot Visions (1990). "Runaround" features the first explicit appearance of the Three Laws of Robotics, which had previously only been implied in Asimov's robot stories.

Artificial intelligence researcher Marvin Minsky said: "After 'Runaround' appeared in the March 1942 issue of Astounding [now Analog Science Fiction and Fact ], I never stopped thinking about how minds might work."

Sally (short story)

"Sally" is a science fiction short story by Isaac Asimov. It was first published in the May–June 1953 issue of Fantastic and later appeared in the Asimov collections Nightfall and Other Stories (1969) and The Complete Robot (1982).

Stranger in Paradise (short story)

"Stranger in Paradise" is a science fiction short story by American writer Isaac Asimov. It was written in the summer of 1973 for an anthology of original stories edited by Judy-Lynn del Rey, but was rejected by her. It was also rejected by Ben Bova for Analog Science Fiction and Fact before being accepted for If magazine, where it appeared in the May–June 1974 issue. The story was reprinted in the collections The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories (1976) and The Complete Robot (1982).

Tachyons in fiction

The hypothetical particles tachyons have inspired many occurrences of tachyons in fiction. The use of the word in science fiction dates back at least to 1970 when James Blish's Star Trek novel Spock Must Die! incorporated tachyons into an ill-fated transporter experiment.

In general, tachyons are a standby mechanism upon which many science fiction authors rely to establish faster-than-light communication, with or without reference to causality issues. For example, in the Babylon 5 television series, tachyons are used for real-time communication over long distances. Another instance is Gregory Benford's novel Timescape, winner of the Nebula Award, which involves the use of tachyons to transmit a message of salvation back in time. Likewise, John Carpenter's horror film Prince of Darkness uses tachyons to explain how future humans send messages backward through time to warn the characters of their impending doom. By contrast, Alan Moore's classic comic book limited series Watchmen features a character who uses "a squall of tachyons" broadcasting from space to muddle the mind of the only person on Earth capable of seeing the future.

The word "tachyon" has become widely recognized to such an extent that it can impart a science-fictional "sound" even if the subject in question has no particular relation to superluminal travel (compare positronic brain). Classic Anime fans may associate tachyons with the energy source for the wave-motion gun and wave-motion engine in Space Battleship Yamato (Starblazers in the United States). Further examples include the "Tachion Tanks" of the PC game Dark Reign and the "tachyon beam" of the game Master of Orion. The space-combat sim Tachyon: The Fringe utilizes "tachyon gates" for superluminal travel but gives no exact explanation for the technology, and the MMORPG Eve Online features six types of "Large Tachyon Lasers", technically a contradiction since by definition, lasers emit light—photons, not any kind of hypothetical tachyon.

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 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 Positronic Man

The Positronic Man is a 1992 novel by American writers Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg, based on Asimov's novelette "The Bicentennial Man".

It tells of a robot that begins to display characteristics, such as creativity, traditionally the province of humans; the robot is ultimately declared an official human being.

The film Bicentennial Man, starring Robin Williams, was based both on the original story and the novel.

Thine Own Self

"Thine Own Self" is the 168th episode of the American science fiction television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the 16th episode of seventh season.

Data, suffering amnesia, unintentionally exposes a primitive alien village to dangerously radioactive materials; Troi takes tests necessary for a promotion from Lt. Commander to Commander.

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:

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

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

Third Law – A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.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, and have impacted thought on ethics of artificial intelligence as well.

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