Screencap of a video interview showing Isaav Asimov, January 2, 2018 - ScienceToday Youtube
CAIRO – 2 January 2018: Acclaimed sci-fi author and humanist Isaac Asimov, a prolific writer of over 500 novels across numerous genres, was born on this day in history on January 2. He is considered a founding father of the modern science-fiction genre, alongside the likes of Arthur C. Clarke.
Asimov’s actual birthday is unknown, being sometime between October 4, 1919 and January 2, 1920, though Asimov himself settled on January 2. After his family moved to New York City, young Asimov grew up in Brooklyn, where he taught himself to read by the age of five years old, already filled with an insatiable lust for learning. Working at his family’s candy store, Asimov would read the science-fiction magazines they had on stock, inspiring his future path in life.
At the age of 15 years old, Asimov had graduated from high school to attend Columbia University, where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1939, and would take his Ph.D in 1948. A year later, he went to study at the Boston University School of Medicine, and eventually became an associate professor in Biochemistry by 1955.
Yet his true passion was writing, and he had been submitting various stories to science-fiction magazines since 1939. His first published book was 1950’s “Pebble in the Sky”, a prototypical work for what would later become his grand “Foundation” series of novels. The storyline follows an old tailor living in Chicago in 1949, who mysteriously finds himself whisked into the far future, where Earth is a radioactive wasteland – a small part of a vast, galactic empire that views the planet as little more than a worthless ball of dust.
That same year saw the publication of “I, Robot”, a collection of nine short stories Asimov had previously written. It was Asimov who invented the word “Robotics”, which he first used in his 1941 short story “Liar!”, which was published in Astounding Science Fiction. “I, Robot” explored humanity’s relationship to robots, in which Asimov coined the iconic three laws of robotics: 1) A robot may not harm or allow a human being to be harmed; 2) A robot must obey every order given, unless it breaks the first law; and 3) A robot must always protect itself so long as this does not violate the first two laws. The three laws not only heavily defined the science-fiction genre but also the real-world field of robotics.
Asimov would publish “Foundation” in 1951, the first of an influential series that explored the history of a galactic empire, with the central theme of a fictional form of mathematics known as “psychohistory”, which is capable of predicting the future on a large scale. Asimov’s novels helped widen the audience for sci-fi by incorporating elements from other genres, such as mystery and drama, which allowed for the stories to be fantastically entertaining and educational.
Not content with just exploring science-fiction, Asimov would write across an immense variety of genres, propelled by his passion for learning to read and write in as many subjects as he could – from biology, mathematics, history, astronomy and even a book on the bible, “Asimov's Guide to the Bible” (1969).
By 1979, Asimov became a professor at Boston University, though by then his literary career was so successful that he only taught occasionally. He was close friends with Gene Roddenberry, the creator of “Star Trek”; the two met when Rodenberry asked Asimov to be quiet during the first-ever screening of the show’s pilot episode in 1964. Asimov lived until he was 72. In 2002, his posthumously published autobiography “It's Been a Good Life”, edited by his wife Janet Jeppson Asimov, revealed that his death was caused by HIV, which he received from an infected blood transfusion following a heart surgery.
Asimov’s impact on culture has been massive, particularly in defining the modern idea of what a robot is and how humanity will deal with it when a machine is indistinguishable from a man. One of Asimov’s short stories, “The Bicentennial Man”, was adapted into a 1999 film starring Robin Williams. The movie follows an android living with a family who gradually learns to experience real emotions, much to their shock and awe.
“I, Robot” would be loosely adapted for the big screen in a 2004 action film starring Will Smith and directed by Alex Proyas. In the movie, a cop investigates a murder that is somehow committed by a robot, uncovering a greater conspiracy that threatens both humanity and robots alike.