20 - Analysis of The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

N. Lygeros
Translated from the Greek by Despina-Myrto Drougka

The traditional reader of Singularity (however, can an individul, whose main position is to be open to any new ideas, be characterized as traditional?) has become acustomed ,to a certain extent, to read the analysis of a scientific book in this article; with one exception being n°7.

Now what is happening at present? He finds himself plunged into science fiction! Of course, he said inwardly, Isaac Asimov is not the first to come in this domain, however, what is the interest in including the analysis of his book The Caves of Steel in this issue?

The anwer is actually quite simple: Science is not merely consist of conjectures that the reflection transforms into results through demonstrations, an important part of its structure depends on imagination. Only the latter is capable of generating an efficient method for a heuristic plan, that allows the solution of a problem, of which the direct approach through a classical formalism  would be impossible.

Science fiction is a driving force of imagination. It is true that this vivid imagination, often, seems to be absolutely delusional, however, it would be a great mistake to reduce it to that. I will only give  a counter-example (not to enter into a polemic, which is no longer scientific) to the general accepted view concerning the value of science fiction.

It was A. Clarke who introduced for the first time into the human thought the notion of geostationary satellite, also more delicately called, “guardian angel” (for only a few are sufficient to  control all the space of what takes place on the Earth). These satellites in orbit at 36,ooo km have the particularity of turning around the axis of the Earth at the same speed of the latter; the main concequence of this property for a terrestial observer is that they seem motionless in the sky.

After this superficial justification is completed (for the purists) is completed, we can proceed to a proper analysis.

Though the detective plot is well conducted, and is worthy of interest in the field of enigma, I consider it to be absolutely secondary to the ideas of  today 71-year-old Asimov, who is righteously considered to be the father of philosophy that is occupied with robots ( it is indeed the one that coined the term robotics) and who touched with his magic fingers as a writer, many of the fundamental problems of the humanity.

Caves of steel are the underground cities of the future. Already, our current shopping centers give a very realistic picture of this extrapolation. According to the story of the writer, the notion of the functional space has become funtamental in the lives of the people in the future; a  future not so distand, even if the author offers poignant examples of this mentality, pushed to its utter extremeties.

The dependence of the people on an exremely complex, almost planetary infrastructure, ostensibly makes them lose any taste for space adventure. They completely lost their feeling for their ancestors
who created the spacian worlds, and even reached the stage of having a complex of inferiority towards these Spacian inhabitants, who are, in fact, only the descendants of their own ancestors.

“These ancestors had first reached the outer worlds, had settled there comfortably, and their descendants had completely forbidden all immigration, and had, in a way, caged the Earth and their Earth cousins. And the civilization of the Earth completed the work by imprisoning the people inside the cities with a psychological wall: the fear fear of the great, empty spaces that separated them from the farms and the mining zones, ordered by the robots, on their own planet: they had a fear even for this space!”

“Our socioligists have reached several conclusions on the current state of the galactic situation: on the one hand, the outer worlds, sub-populated, hyper-robotic, powerful, the inhabitants of which enjoy perfect health and longevity and on the other hand, we, overcrowded, technologically underdeveloped, early deceased, at their merci, is a particularly unstable situation.”

“Over time, this instabitity will increase, and the maximum amount of time we have before the conflict is at best a century, of course it will happen after our time; we will not be present anymore; our children will be at the heart of the affair, for we will inevitably become a danger too tangible for the outer worlds to let us live.”

“They have cast us out of he Galaxy; the treat all our foreign trade at their will, impose a system of goverment on us, instead of letting us operate on our affairs and, they even feel nothing but contempt for us.”

“Everything is exactly so, and a pattern emerges: revolt, hencerepression, re-revolt, repression, etc., and within a century the Earth will no longer be amongst the inhabited worlds.”

“Spacians, whose life span has increased considerably, are themselves increasingly reluctant towards any risk that might jeopardize their precious lives.”The “artificial” junction between these two kinds of humans is the robot.

These robots scarecly accepted by the landholder earthlings who are afraid of being replaced by these “cold mechines” in their profession and used in abundance by the Spacians, are structured according to the 3 laws of Robotics.


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 orders given by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.”

Third Law: “A robot must protect its existence to the extent that such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law Act.”
These three basic laws were set for the first time by I. Asimov in his book The Robot, and were discussed in detail in The Parade of robots.

But that’s enough! Now place for reading. A final piece of information however, for the readers who will be enthusiastic about these books. Books: The Naked Sun, The Robots of Dawn, Robots and Empire (read independently of each other) deepen each in turn, and in that order defined, the theme of the role of the Robot in the human civilization.