I rather liked this anthology.
It’s a play on Isaac Asimov’s famous Three Laws of Robotics: 1.) A robot can’t injure a human being, 2.) A robot must obey orders, so long as it doesn’t conflict with the First Law, and 3.) A robot must protect itself from harm, so long as this doesn’t conflict the first two laws.
The idea of Asimov-style humanoid robots seems quaint nowadays, like a future where domed cities would be built on the Moon in the 1980s…but when you think of recent advances in artificial intelligence and weaponized drone aircraft, the notion of Three Laws becomes suddenly much more relevant.
GOD, ROBOT is a thought experiment that adds another layer to the Three Laws. Specifically, it cites The Greatest Commandment from Matthew 22, when the lawyer asks Christ about the greatest commandment of the Law, and Christ answers:
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
So how would robots act if they were programmed to love their neighbors as themselves? It could be an appealing prospect, or terrifying – the AI in THE MATRIX movies might have argued that they had imprisoned mankind in the Matrix for their own good.
GOD, ROBOT is structured as a frame story. In the year 6000 AD, a cop named Thesus tracks down the notorious criminal William Locke to an isolated monastery in the Alpha Centauri star system. When Theseus at last finds his quarry, the aged Locke surrenders without a fight, but first wants to tell Theseus a story – specifically, the story of the “theobots”. In the universe of GOD, ROBOT, a group of scientists decide to add the two commandments mentioned above to the Three Laws, creating a new kind of android called a “theobot”. Locke’s story (structured in the contributors’ story to the anthology), tells the history of the theobots, from their inception in early 21st century America, their spread into space, their part in the rise and fall of the tyrannical World State, and their gradual journeys into interstellar space.
I definitely enjoyed it – I think my favorite stories were the ones featuring the bumbling scientists who lived in terror of their boss, and the final story, when a woman prepares to unleash a long-prepared genocide, but has doubts at the final moment. The best speculative fiction always asks the “what if” question, and this anthology does a good job of that.