And now it is 16 years the good doctor is gone...

16 years ago yesterday, on April 6th, 1992, the good doctor, Isaac Asimov passed away. All of us who learned to love his writing and teachings (with Carl Sagan, Dr. Asimov was a great educator for science) were baffled at the news; like Arthur C. Clarke, I genuinely thought Isaac Asimov would live forever. Now I know I was not wrong, as he lives on in his legacy.

And what a legacy! 500 plus books! The man could write and talk on the phone at the same time and he was an accomplished typist. He used one of those old IBM electric typewriters (he died in 1992, almost pre-internet) with the letters on a sphere and he kept breaking the return spring until he had IBM equip one of the typewriters with a heavy duty return spring that would hold up to his furious typing. He did not bother feeding single sheets into the typewriter, he used a continuous paper, like the ones used later in computer printers.

Unlike Clarke and Heinlein, Asimov did not meddle with genetics in his stories. His thing was robots. Isaac Asimov created the famous three laws of robotics, to wit:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Later, one of Asimov's robots comes to the realization that there is a "zeroth" law: that a robot must protect humanity and avoid humanity to come to harm through inaction. This law would turn out to have precedence over the other three and allowed the good doctor to spin fantastic tales of human evolution arising from the heroic robot realizing the power of the "zeroth" law.

(Interestingly, the three laws of robotics are an excellent ethical guide... better than "the good book"...)

Dr. Asimov was an accomplished skeptic. In his book "The Roving Mind", he wrote:

"Don't you believe in flying saucers, they ask me? Don't you believe in telepathy? — in ancient astronauts? — in the Bermuda triangle? — in life after death?

No, I reply. No, no, no, no, and again no.

One person recently, goaded into desperation by the litany of unrelieved negation, burst out 'Don't you believe in anything?'

'Yes', I said. 'I believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers. I'll believe anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it. The wilder and more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be."

And what a great lesson.

(Image above is from Wikipedia. In the words of the author: "I, Rowena Morrill, license this image under the GFDL, with an Invariant Section consisting of the words 'Rowena Morrill'. I am the creator of this derivative work, based on an original work of which I am the creator.")

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