The Evitable Conflict

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"The Evitable Conflict"
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, paperback)
Publication date June 1950
Preceded by "Evidence"
Followed by "Robot Dreams"

"The Evitable Conflict" is a science fiction short story by Isaac Asimov. It first appeared in the June 1950 issue of Astounding Science Fiction and subsequently appeared in the collections I, Robot (1950), The Complete Robot (1982), and Robot Visions (1990). It features the character Stephen Byerley from the earlier story Evidence.

Plot summary[edit]

The "Machines", powerful positronic computers which are used to optimize the world's economy and production, start giving instructions that appear to go against their function. Although each glitch is minor when taken by itself, the fact that they exist at all is alarming. Stephen Byerley, now elected World Co-ordinator, consults the four other Regional Coordinators and then asks Susan Calvin for her opinion.

They discover that the Machines have generalized the First Law to mean "No machine may harm humanity; or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm." (This is similar to the Zeroth Law which Asimov developed in later novels.) Dr. Calvin concludes that the "glitches" are deliberate acts by the Machines, allowing a small amount of harm to come to selected individuals in order to prevent a large amount of harm coming to humanity as a whole.

In effect, the Machines have decided that the only way to follow the First Law is to take control of humanity, which is one of the events that the three Laws are supposed to prevent. Asimov returned to this theme in The Naked Sun and The Robots of Dawn, in which the controlling influence is not a small conspiracy of Machines but instead the aggregate influence of many robots, each individually tasked to prevent harm.

Preceded by:
Included in:
I, Robot
The Complete Robot
Robot series
Foundation Series
Followed by:
"Robot Dreams"