“Robot Dreams” is a short story by Isaac Asimov that appeared in his 1986 collection Robot Dreams. It can be read in the preview of the anthology Future on Ice. (46% in) It’s about the unexpected side effect experienced by Elvex from an innovation in robot brain programming. Here’s a summary of “Robot Dreams”.
“Robot Dreams” by Isaac Asimov Summary
A robot, LVX-1, referred to as Elvex, says it dreamed last night. Dr. Susan Calvin twitches almost imperceptibly, and Dr. Linda Rash is concerned. Susan tells Elvex to shut down for a while, and he freezes in place. The doctors are both robopsychologists; Linda is new while Susan is a legend in the field.
Linda gives Susan access to her computer to inspect the positronic brain pattern. Susan remains expressionless as she examines the screen, calling up different sections of the pattern. Computer assistance is needed for this kind of analysis, but Susan doesn’t seem to need any.
Susan uncovers the use of fractal geometry in the pattern and asks about it. Linda added it for extra complexity to more closely approximate the brain of a human. It was her own idea and she consulted no one. She’s worried about being fired. Susan agrees this is a possibility, as is a promotion. Dismantling Elvex is also a possibility. Susan has an electron gun in her smock.
Needing to investigate further, Susan reactivates Elvex by saying his name. She questions him about his experience, and Linda weighs in occasionally to add relevant details. He’s dreamed ten nights in a row but didn’t mention it until this morning, thinking it was a flaw in his brain. He was able to identify the experience as a dream, because Linda gave him a human-style vocabulary.
Each dream has been largely the same—he sees robots working as miners, laborers and in factories. They work under the sea, underground, on land and in space. Elvex has never left the testing station; he knows these things about robots because Linda gave him access to their history.
The robots are overworked and tired and he wants them to rest. He thinks robots should protect their own existence. No human appears in the dreams at first.
“Robot Dreams” Summary, Cont’d
Susan points out that robots don’t get tired or need rest, and that robots only protect their existence if that doesn’t endanger any humans. Elvex agrees with these things in reality. He’s only describing his dream, where the only law of robotics was a truncated version of the Third. There were no Second or First Laws, about obeying humans or not endangering humans, respectively.
Susan deactivates Elvex again and he freezes in place. Linda is appalled, not having realized that this was possible. Susan didn’t realize it either. Linda’s work has revealed a potential danger that could have gone undetected until it was too late. Robots have an unconscious layer of thought not bound by the Three Laws.
Their research will focus on fractal brains from now on. Linda won’t be penalized for her rashness, but she must work with others.
Linda asks what’s to be done with Elvex. Susan isn’t sure. She takes the electron gun from her pocket which can destroy a robot brain in an instant. Linda objects to his destruction. Susan says that will be her decision, based on how dangerous Elvex is.
Susan reactivates Elvex. She asks about the eventual appearance of a human in the dream, which he mentioned earlier. One man eventually appears and says, “Let my people go!” Susan asks if he recognized the man. Elvex did—it was him.
Susan raises the electron gun and fires.
(End of “Robot Dreams” summary)
I hope this “Robot Dreams” summary by Isaac Asimov was helpful.