"I, Robot" by Isaac Asimov, Introduction & Robbie

These interlinked stories imagine the development of robotics while exploring the ethics of technological progress.

Here are links to our lists for the book: Introduction & Robbie, Runaround & Reason, Catch That Rabbit & Liar, Little Lost Robot & Escape!, Evidence & The Inevitable Conflict
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Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. hackneyed
    repeated too often; overfamiliar through overuse
    “Fifty years,” I hackneyed, “is a long time.”
    “Not when you're looking back at them," she said. “You wonder how they vanished so quickly.”
    In this sentence, Asimov uses the uncommon verb form of hackney, meaning "to overuse or make overfamiliar."
  2. disheveled
    in disarray; extremely disorderly
    She pushed uselessly at her disheveled hair in vague imitation of one of her mother’s gestures and twisted to see if her dress were torn.
  3. cower
    show submission or fear
    And Robbie cowered, holding his hands over his face so that she had to add, “No, I won’t, Robbie. I won’t spank you. But anyway, it’s my turn to hide now be­ cause you’ve got longer legs and you promised not to run till I found you.”
  4. scurry
    move about or proceed hurriedly
    “Don’t peek now—and don’t skip any numbers,” warned Gloria, and scurried for cover.
  5. ponderous
    labored and dull
    But Robbie was hurt at the unjust accusation, so he seated himself carefully and shook his head ponderously from side to side.
  6. emphatic
    forceful and definite in expression or action
    He gazed stubbornly at the sky, and shook his head even more emphatically.
  7. undaunted
    unshaken in purpose
    She aimed over her shoulder with undaunted courage and Robbie was a blunt-nosed spaceship zooming through the void at maximum acceleration.
  8. intermittent
    stopping and starting at irregular intervals
    Gloria gasped and panted, and gave voice to intermittent whispered exclamations of “That was nice!”
  9. artless
    simple and natural; without cunning or deceit
    “You want something?” said Gloria, eyes wide in an apparently artless complexity that fooled her huge “nursemaid” not at all.
  10. alacrity
    liveliness and eagerness
    Robbie obeyed with alacrity for somehow there was that in him which judged it best to obey Mrs. Weston, without as much as a scrap of hesitation.
  11. genial
    diffusing warmth and friendliness
    Gloria’s father was rarely home in the daytime except on Sunday—today, for instance—and when he was, he proved a genial and understanding person.
  12. quaver
    give off unsteady sounds
    “I was with Robbie,” quavered Gloria. “I was telling him Cinderella, and I forgot it was dinner-time.”
  13. disconsolate
    sad beyond comforting; incapable of being soothed
    The robot left with a disconsolate step and Gloria choked back a sob.
  14. berserk
    frenzied as if possessed by a demon
    “But something might go wrong. Some—some—” Mrs. Weston was a bit hazy about the insides of a robot, “some little jigger will come loose and the awful thing will go berserk and—and—” She couldn’t bring herself to complete the quite obvious thought.
  15. inoperable
    not able to perform its normal function
    You know that it is impossible for a robot to harm a human being; that long before enough can go wrong to alter that First Law, a robot would be completely inoperable. It’s a mathematical impossibility.
  16. overhaul
    the act of improving by renewing and restoring
    Besides I have an engineer from U.S. Robots here twice a year to give the poor gadget a complete overhaul.
  17. scrupulous
    having ethical or moral principles
    George Weston, after all, was only a man—poor thing—and his wife made full use of every device which a clumsier and more scrupulous sex has learned, with reason and futility, to fear.
  18. ensuing
    following immediately and as a result of what went before
    Ten times in the ensuing week, he cried, “Robbie stays,—and that’s final!” and each time it was weaker and accompanied by a louder and more agonized groan.
  19. precipitous
    done with very great haste and without due deliberation
    Gloria turned precipitously and ran down the basement steps, shouting as she went, “Robbie—Come and see what Daddy and Mamma brought me. They brought me a dog, Robbie.”
  20. morosely
    in a sullen, moody manner
    Mrs. Weston glanced at her husband for help, but he merely shuffled his feet morosely and did not withdraw his ardent stare from the heavens, so she bent to the task of consolation, “Why do you cry, Gloria? Robbie was only a machine, just a nasty old machine. He wasn’t alive at all.”
  21. ardent
    characterized by intense emotion
    Mrs. Weston glanced at her husband for help, but he merely shuffled his feet morosely and did not withdraw his ardent stare from the heavens, so she bent to the task of consolation, “Why do you cry, Gloria? Robbie was only a machine, just a nasty old machine. He wasn’t alive at all.”
  22. flounce
    walk in an emphatic or exaggerated way
    Then, one evening, she flounced into the living room, sat down, folded her arms and looked boiling mad.
  23. rejoinder
    a quick reply to a question or remark
    “Yes, Mamma,” was Gloria’s unenthusiastic rejoinder.
  24. peremptory
    not allowing contradiction or refusal
    They visited the zoos where Gloria stared in delicious fright at the “real live lion” (rather disappointed that the keepers fed him raw steaks, instead of human beings, as she had expected), and asked insistently and peremptorily to see “the whale.”
  25. archaic
    so extremely old as seeming to belong to an earlier period
    She was taken halfway up the Hudson in an excursion steamer fitted out in the archaism of the mad Twenties.
  26. stratosphere
    atmospheric layer between the troposphere and the mesosphere
    She travelled into the stratosphere on an exhibition trip, where the sky turned deep purple and the stars came out and the misty earth below looked like a huge concave bowl.
  27. prosaic
    not fanciful or imaginative
    On a more prosaic level, Mrs. Weston took her to the department stores where she could revel in another type of fairyland.
  28. revel
    take delight in
    On a more prosaic level, Mrs. Weston took her to the department stores where she could revel in another type of fairyland.
  29. exploit
    a notable achievement
    It was while the Westons were standing totally absorbed in the exploits of a powerful electro-magnet that Mrs. Weston suddenly became aware of the fact that Gloria was no longer with her.
  30. intonation
    rise and fall of the voice pitch
    There was an oily whir of gears and a mechanically-timbered voice boomed out in words that lacked accent and intonation, “I—am—the—robot—that—talks.”
  31. ruefully
    in a manner expressing pain or sorrow for sins or offenses
    Gloria stared at it ruefully. It did talk, but the sound came from inside somewheres.
  32. erratic
    likely to perform unpredictably
    To which the Talking Robot’s only response was an erratic splutter and an occasional incoherent sound.
  33. din
    a loud harsh or strident noise
    Gloria raised her grieved voice over the din, “I only came to see the Talking Robot, Mamma. I thought he might know where Robbie was because they’re both robots.”
  34. pince-nez
    spectacles clipped to the nose by a spring
    "...You see,” he tapped his pince-nez into one palm argumentatively, “what the labor unions don’t realize—and I say this as a man who has always been very sympathetic with the labor movement in general—is that the advent of the robot, while involving some dislocation to begin with, will inevitably—”
  35. advent
    arrival that has been awaited
    "...You see,” he tapped his pince-nez into one palm argumentatively, “what the labor unions don’t realize—and I say this as a man who has always been very sympathetic with the labor movement in general—is that the advent of the robot, while involving some dislocation to begin with, will inevitably—”
  36. inevitably
    in such a manner as could not be otherwise
    "...You see,” he tapped his pince-nez into one palm argumentatively, “what the labor unions don’t realize—and I say this as a man who has always been very sympathetic with the labor movement in general—is that the advent of the robot, while involving some dislocation to begin with, will inevitably—”
  37. sluice
    conduit that carries a rapid flow of water
    Then, when they had entered a large well-lit room that buzzed with metallic activity, the sluices opened and the flood of explanation poured forth again.
  38. iota
    a tiny or scarcely detectable amount
    With one sweep of an arm, Robbie snatched up Gloria, slackening his speed not one iota, and, consequently, knocking every breath of air out of her.
  39. formidable
    extremely impressive in strength or excellence
    She turned to her husband, and, despite her disheveled and undignified appearance, managed to look quite formidable, “You engineered this, didn't you?”
  40. bare bones
    (plural) the most basic facts or elements
    I tried to keep her talking, “If you would give me the bare bones, Dr. Calvin, I can have Mr. Powell fill it in afterward."

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