Isaac Asimov, "The Evitable Conflict"

Cover, Isaac Asimov's I, Robot

This science fiction short story was first published in Astounding Science Fiction, a popular science fiction magazine. It was later published as the final story in Asimov's short story collection 'I, Robot'. 


The story is set in the year 2052 when the world's economic system is governed by super-intelligent robots referred to as the Machines. They have created an idyllic society free from evils such as unemployment, over-production, and war. However, World Co-ordinater Steven Byerley (from previous story "Evidence") is concerned about a few aberrations he has noticed in the smooth functioning of the world's economy. The Regional Vice Co-ordinators of the four Planetary Regions tell him about odd events such as people losing their jobs due to improper information from the Machines. Byerley finds connections between the issues and the Society for Humanity, an anti-Machine organization, who he then suspects is responsible for tampering with the Machines. He seeks counsel from expert robopsychologist Susan Calvin who explains to him that the positronic brains of the Machines ensure that they follow the First Law of Robotics, "No Machine may harm humanity; or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm." She explains that the Machines are causing economic disturbances so that they can remove threats, such as members of the Society for Humanity, from positions of power, so that they cannot harm the Machines themselves and by extension the human race, sacrificing individuals for the good of humanity.

Major Theme:

In a world where governance has been handed over to the superintelligent positronic brains of the Machines, the theme of human control, or lack there of, is very prominent. A Vice Co-ordinator even mentions that he thinks of his position as primarily administrative, as the Machines are in charge of everything. The story concludes with the idea that the Machines are programmed to make decisions in the best interests of humanity as a whole and individual humans have no say in the matter. The story expresses anxiety over the lack of human control, with decisions about humanity's future being made by robots that are so advanced that humans can no longer even understand how they function. However, Asimov also presents the lack of human control as a constant feature throughout history and the development of machine superintelligence as a natural progression of mankind. The tension between these two perspectives is ever-present throughout the story.

Associated Place(s)

Event date:

Jun 1950