Liar! (short story)

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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 May 1941
Preceded by "Catch that Rabbit"
Followed by "Satisfaction Guaranteed"

"Liar!" is a science fiction short story by American writer Isaac Asimov. It first appeared in the May 1941 issue of Astounding Science Fiction and was reprinted in the collections I, Robot (1950) and The Complete Robot (1982). It was Asimov's third published positronic robot story. Although the word "robot" was introduced to the public by Czech writer Karel Čapek in his 1920 play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), Asimov's story "Liar!" contains the first recorded use of the word "robotics" according to the Oxford English Dictionary. In 1969 "Liar" was adapted into an episode of the British television series Out of the Unknown, although only a few short clips of this episode are known to exist. The events of this short story are also mentioned in the novel The Robots of Dawn written by the same author.

Plot summary[edit]

Through a fault in manufacturing, a robot, RB-34 (a.k.a. Herbie), is created that possesses telepathic abilities. While the roboticists at U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men investigate how this occurred, the robot tells them what other people are thinking. But the First Law still applies to this robot, and so it deliberately lies when necessary to avoid hurting their feelings and to make people happy, especially in terms of romance.

However, by lying, it is hurting them anyway. When it is confronted with this fact by Susan Calvin (to whom it told a lie that was particularly painful to her when it was shown to be false), the robot experiences an irresolvable logical conflict and becomes catatonic.

See also[edit]

  • Liar paradox
  • Does not compute
  • HAL 9000, who confronted a similar paradox when told to keep a secret, while being "hardwired" to return information truthfully and without concealment.

Preceded by:
"Catch that Rabbit"
Included in:
I, Robot
The Complete Robot
Robot Visions
Robot series
Foundation Series
Followed by:
"Satisfaction Guaranteed"