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The great science fiction writer, biochemist, and humanist Isaac Asimov was born on this day in 1920. His family emigrated from the USSR to Brooklyn when he was three, and he grew up literate in both Yiddish and English. Asimov wrote or edited some 500 books — in nine out of ten of the major categories of the Dewey Decimal System. His best-known sci fi works were the Foundation Trilogy and his robot series, led by I, Robot (1950), which propounded the “Three Laws of Robotics,” highly influential in both science fiction and in real-life robotics. His other books included histories of the Roman Empire and Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (1967 and ‘69). Raised in an Orthodox family (his parents were candy-store owners), Asimov was an atheist and an affirmative Jew. He was a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War and a public supporter of George McGovern. Asimov died in 1992; a crater on Mars was named in his honor in 2009.
“The Three Laws of Robotics:
“A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
“A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
“A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.” — Isaac Asimov, I, Robot
Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.