Catch That Rabbit

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"Catch That Rabbit"
Author Isaac Asimov
Country United States
Language English
Series Robot series
Genre(s) Science fiction short story
Published in Astounding Science Fiction
Publication type Periodical
Publisher Street & Smith
Media type Print (magazine, hardback and paperback)
Publication date February 1944
Preceded by "Reason"
Followed by "Liar!"

"Catch that Rabbit" is a science fiction short story by Isaac Asimov that was first published in the February 1944 issue of Astounding Science Fiction and reprinted in the collections I, Robot (1950) and The Complete Robot (1982).

Plot summary[edit]

The recurring team of Powell and Donovan are in charge of field tests on an asteroid mining station with a robot, DV-5 (Dave). But the robot stops producing ore, and cannot explain why. The robot is a new model with six subsidiary robots under its control (they are described as fingers) via positronic fields, a means of transmission not yet fully understood by roboticists. When they secretly observe the robot, it starts performing strange marches and dances with its subsidiaries whenever something unexpected happens. It is up to the two field testers to figure out why Dave is acting the way he is. This observation-dependent behavior alteration, hindering the resolution of the robots' behavioral bug, makes it an early example of a Heisenbug (software problem)[original research?]. The reason is that the main robot had too many subsidiary robots under his control, and whenever there is a serious need of decisiveness, his brain overloads, so whenever there is a dangerous decision to be made, the pressure increases, and he breaks down. The other robots do not know why they are dancing and when interrogated one mentioned that they received an order but before they could get it the order was replaced by an order to dance. Powell and Donovan spend days watching them on the telescreen, then follow them to find out what the original order was till they realize it doesn't matter when they are trapped in a cave-in when trying to stimulate the dancing from the robots. Why did the robots stop dancing when the humans were watching them? Because when the humans were around, the pressure is lifted somewhat, because the human's presence helps the robot's mind make decisions. They then destroy one of the subsidiary robots, allowing Dave to no longer be confused, and as he can now hear them, the First Law of Robotics takes over ("Through action or inaction, a robot cannot allow a human to come to harm") and he rescues them from danger.

Here, Asimov anthropomorphises by having a robot twiddle its thumbs when it finds itself overwhelmed by its job. (Which is to say that one of the characters draws that analogy; how seriously Asimov meant it is unclear.) In many cases, robopsychology - personified by Susan Calvin - runs parallel to human psychology. For instance, at this point in I, Robot, the reader has already seen hysteria and religious mania.


Preceded by:
"Reason"
Included in:
I, Robot
The Complete Robot
Series:
Robot series
Foundation Series
Followed by:
"Liar!"