I, Robot

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I, Robot is a 2004 science fiction film starring Will Smith and is loosely based on the themes presented in a collection of short stories of the same name by Isaac Asimov. Asimov's short stories take place as a series of different parts of an interview and stories within that interview with a woman named Dr. Susan Calvin. All nine of the short stories share a few common themes that are all expressed in I, Robot, and those are the interaction of humans with technology and robot morality within human society.


Plot Synopsis

In the not too distant future, humans use robots on a daily basis as Machine Labor for daily tasks. These robots contain significantly advanced intelligence, but are programmed with three basic laws they cannot break:

  1. They must not harm any human or allow any human to come to harm.
  2. They must obey any orders given to them by humans, unless they conflict with the first law.
  3. They must protect their own existence, unless this conflicts with the first two laws.

A new model of robot becomes integrated into society, the NS-5, who all take commands from a core artificial intelligence named VIKI. In addition, a new, human-like experimental robot named Sonny was developed by a U.S. Robotics (USR) scientist and stood independent from the core AI. When the scientist appears to have committed suicide by jumping out of a tall window, Del Spooner (played by Smith) suspects Sunny of the crime. As his investigation continues, the NS-5s begin to rebel against humanity, imprisoning humans. Spooner learns that the culprit is VIKI, who had not broken the three laws of robotics, but interpreted them differently. VIKI observed humans waging wars and toxifying the planet, and, to protect humanity, concluded that they were not fit to be responsibile for themselves. Her solution for this was a full robotic takeover. In the end, Spooner destroys VIKI using the same nanites he was originally planning to use on Sonny, officially discontinuing the NS-5 robot model from manufacturing. [1]


  • Del Spooner: The protagonist of the story. He is distrustful of robots due to an incident with one of them.
  • Sonny: A modified NS-5 who has human like qualities.
  • V.I.K.I: The central computing system that controls the NS-5. It is the main antagonist in the series.
  • Susan: A researcher who helped create the NS-5.

Connection to Class Tropes

  • Machine Labor - Throughout the whole movie, robots are forced to do their "master's" bidding. Due to the Three Laws, robots can't say no to any command. A pivotal scene in I Robot is where, Detective Del is chasing down a robot, which he thinks is robbing someone, but in reality is just retrieving a purse for its owner. These robots do not have fun, and all they are used for is for labor.
  • Human Labor - In the movie, robots could finish almost everything that human could do. Robots exist in everyone's home, which means if something goes wrong every family become hostage. So, human labor is actually more emotionally closer to everyone.
  • Proposed Trope: Breaking the Cycle - We see that the earth is at a stage where human labor is close to obsolete, everything is done by machines. Man is very dependent on machine and thinks that it is incapable of doing any folly, it is perfect. But Detective Del (Will Smith) breaks this cycle by doubting this fact. He does not like the machines and always doubts them. Later on we find out there is a robot that is actually able to think and the machine in charge or all other robots has got a mind of its own.
  • Proposed Trope: The Truth - Detective Del is the person who has realized the truth. In society there is always one person who goes against the norms. Who believes what no one else will. Del is this character in the movie and goes on to discover the truth about machines.

Connection to Class (Cyberpunk Themes, Spring 2011)

Class Questions

Who or what decides how technology should be used?

In the film, the people who purchase the robots have a degree of control over their personal robots. Certain robots are controlled by services, such as the demolition robot or the mailman robot. However, USR, the corporation which manufactures most of the robots (and thus holds a monopoly on the robot industry), has a much greater degree of control on how the robots are to be used. Their technicians decide the extent of the robots' physical prowess, while their programmers decide the versatility and capability of the robots' software functions. 

Also, it should be noted that the consumers of the robot industry also have a say in how the technology should be used. The people have the ability to speak with their money and their support. It seems that the robots must have catered to the wants and needs of the populous during the time that the robots were made, sold, and used before they revolted. If the consumers did not wish for the robots to be used in a certain way, they wouldn't financially support the company and creators by purchasing them.

This movie is a great example of overuse the technology. Once artificial intelligents have the ability to "think" by themselves, there will be some bad things happen. I would say that humans should give a good control on the technology and make technology under control.

How does technology allow us to exceed the limits of our human bodies?

It is evident throughout the film that the robots and robotic modifications are beyond the scope of natural physical human strength. For example, the main character Del Spooner is only able to successfully defeat a robot in a fight due to his robotic arm.

How does technology re-arrange communities? How do communities re-arrange technology?

Near the end of the film, people are united against the robot uprising. In a sense, technology brought people of different social classes together in order to fight a common enemy.


The film explores the implications and consequences of a sentient A.I., much like Neuromancer and He, She and It.


VIKI, USR's central AI, can be compared to Wintermute. Detective Spooner's robotic arm, can be also be compared to Molly's multiple modifications that she has.


Will Smith's Mechanical arm shows a clear correlation to the Mechanist society depicted within Schismatrix. Although all of the Mechanists in the story clearly added their biomechanical parts intentionally as opposed to Smith's necessity for a human arm, both mechanically altered their bodies in order to help improve their biological status. The only difference was that the Mechanists added parts to reach the limits of human capabilities, while Smith added his mechanical arm to prevent himself from being a crippled man in the police force.

He, She and It

Similar to Yod, the cyborg, Sonny is superiorly programmed compared to his counterparts. He is programmed with a set of human like characteristics and capabilities and purpose by his creator. This is interesting as it seems to suggest that for a robot to become more powerful it must become more human like. However, this makes sense in order to create a better being. There is a saying that says anything easy for a computer is hard for a human and vice versa. This also relates to Neuromancer. Wintermute in order to become more powerful must combine with Neuromancer, an AI which has much more human like qualities.


  1. Mark, Laurence (Producer) & Proyas, Alex (Director). (2004) I, Robot [Motion Picture]. United States: 20th Century Fox.
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