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Positronic brain

Positronic brain

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A positronic brain is a fictional technological device, originally conceived by science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

 writer Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov was an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books. Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000...

. Its role is to serve as a central computer
Computer
A computer is a programmable machine designed to sequentially and automatically carry out a sequence of arithmetic or logical operations. The particular sequence of operations can be changed readily, allowing the computer to solve more than one kind of problem...

 for a robot
Robot
A robot is a mechanical or virtual intelligent agent that can perform tasks automatically or with guidance, typically by remote control. In practice a robot is usually an electro-mechanical machine that is guided by computer and electronic programming. Robots can be autonomous, semi-autonomous or...

, and, in some unspecified way, to provide it with a form of consciousness
Consciousness
Consciousness is a term that refers to the relationship between the mind and the world with which it interacts. It has been defined as: subjectivity, awareness, the ability to experience or to feel, wakefulness, having a sense of selfhood, and the executive control system of the mind...

 recognizable to human
Human
Humans are the only living species in the Homo genus...

s. When Asimov wrote his first robot stories in 1939/1940, the positron
Positron
The positron or antielectron is the antiparticle or the antimatter counterpart of the electron. The positron has an electric charge of +1e, a spin of ½, and has the same mass as an electron...

 was a newly discovered particle and so the buzz word positronic, coined by analogy with electronic, added a contemporary gloss of popular science to the concept.

Background


Asimov remained vague about the technical details except to assert that the brain's substructure was formed from an alloy of platinum
Platinum
Platinum is a chemical element with the chemical symbol Pt and an atomic number of 78. Its name is derived from the Spanish term platina del Pinto, which is literally translated into "little silver of the Pinto River." It is a dense, malleable, ductile, precious, gray-white transition metal...

 and iridium
Iridium
Iridium is the chemical element with atomic number 77, and is represented by the symbol Ir. A very hard, brittle, silvery-white transition metal of the platinum family, iridium is the second-densest element and is the most corrosion-resistant metal, even at temperatures as high as 2000 °C...

. The focus of Asimov's stories was directed more towards the software of robots (such as the Three Laws of Robotics
Three Laws of Robotics
The Three Laws of Robotics are a set of rules devised by the science fiction author Isaac Asimov and later added to. The rules are introduced in his 1942 short story "Runaround", although they were foreshadowed in a few earlier stories...

) than the hardware in which it was implemented, although it is stated in his stories that to create a positronic brain without the Three Laws it would have been necessary to spend years redesigning the brain itself.

Within his stories of robotics
Robotics
Robotics is the branch of technology that deals with the design, construction, operation, structural disposition, manufacture and application of robots...

 on Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

 and their development by U.S. Robots
U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men
The fictional corporation U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc. is the major manufacturer of robots in the 21st century in Isaac Asimov's Robot Series of novels and short stories....

, Asimov's positronic brain became less of a plot device
Plot device
A plot device is an object or character in a story whose sole purpose is to advance the plot of the story, or alternatively to overcome some difficulty in the plot....

, and more of a technological item worthy of study.

A positronic brain cannot ordinarily be built without incorporating the Three Laws; any modification thereof would drastically modify robot behavior. Behavioral dilemmas resulting from conflicting potentials set by inexperienced and/or malicious users of the robot for the Three Laws make up the bulk of Asimov's stories concerning robots. They are resolved by applying the science
Science
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

 of logic and psychology
Psychology
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

 together with mathematics
Mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

, the supreme solution finder being Dr. Susan Calvin
Susan Calvin
Dr. Susan Calvin is a fictional character from Isaac Asimov's Robot Series. She was the chief robopsychologist at US Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc., the major manufacturer of robots in the 21st century...

, Chief Robopsychologist
Robopsychology
Robopsychology is the study of the personalities of intelligent machines. The term and the concept were popularised by Isaac Asimov in the short stories collected in I, Robot, which featured robopsychologist Dr...

 of U.S. Robots.

The Three Laws are also a bottleneck
Bottleneck
A bottleneck is a phenomenon where the performance or capacity of an entire system is limited by a single or limited number of components or resources. The term bottleneck is taken from the 'assets are water' metaphor. As water is poured out of a bottle, the rate of outflow is limited by the width...

 in terms of brain sophistication. Very complex brains designed to handle world economy interpret the First Law in expanded sense to include humanity as opposed to a single human; in Asimov's later works like Robots and Empire
Robots and Empire
Robots and Empire is science fiction novel written by the American author Isaac Asimov and published by Doubleday Books in 1985. It is part of Asimov's Robot series, consisting of many short stories and novels....

this is referred to as the "Zeroth Law". Brains which are constructed as calculating machine
Machine
A machine manages power to accomplish a task, examples include, a mechanical system, a computing system, an electronic system, and a molecular machine. In common usage, the meaning is that of a device having parts that perform or assist in performing any type of work...

s as opposed to being robot control circuits are designed to have a flexible, child-like personality so that they are able to pursue difficult problems without the Three Laws inhibiting them completely.

Under specific conditions, the Three Laws can be obviated, with the modification of the actual robotic design.
  • Robots which are of low enough value can have the Third Law deleted; they do not have to protect themselves from harm, and the brain size can be reduced by half.
  • Robots that do not require orders from a human being may have the Second Law deleted, and therefore require smaller brains again, providing they do not require the Third Law.
  • Robots that are disposable, cannot receive orders from a human being and are not able to harm a human, will not require even the First Law. The sophistication of positronic circuitry renders a brain so small that it could comfortably fit within the skull of an insect.


Robots of the aforementioned last type directly parallel contemporary industrial robotics practice, though real-life robots do contain safety sensors and systems, in a concern for human safety (a weak form of the First Law; the robot is a safe tool to use, but has no "judgment", which is implicit in Asimov's own stories).

Several robot stories have been written by other authors following Asimov's death. For example, in Roger MacBride Allen
Roger MacBride Allen
Roger MacBride Allen is an American science fiction author. He was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut and grew up in Washington, D.C., graduating from Boston University in 1979. His father is American historian and author Thomas B...

's Caliban
Isaac Asimov's Caliban
Isaac Asimov's Caliban is a science fiction novel by Roger MacBride Allen, set in Isaac Asimov's Robots/Empire/Foundation universe.-Plot summary:This series deals with a new type of robots who do not have the Three Laws of Robotics...

 trilogy, a Spacer
Spacer (Asimov)
In Isaac Asimov's Foundation/Empire/Robot series, the Spacers were the first humans to emigrate to space. About a millennium thereafter, they severed political ties with Earth, and embraced low population growth and extreme longevity as a means for a high standard of living, in combination with...

 roboticist called Gubber Anshaw invents the gravitonic brain. It offers speed and capacity improvements over traditional positronic designs, but the strong influence of tradition make robotics labs reject Anshaw's work. Only one roboticist, Fredda Leving, chooses to adopt gravitonics, because it offers her a blank slate on which she could explore alternatives to the Three Laws. Because they are not dependent upon centuries of earlier research, gravitonic brains can be programmed with the standard Laws, variations of the Laws, or even empty pathways which specify no Laws at all.

Doctor Who


In the fourth season (1966–67) Doctor Who
Doctor Who
Doctor Who is a British science fiction television programme produced by the BBC. The programme depicts the adventures of a time-travelling humanoid alien known as the Doctor who explores the universe in a sentient time machine called the TARDIS that flies through time and space, whose exterior...

story "The Power of the Daleks
The Power of the Daleks
The Power of the Daleks is a serial in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in six weekly parts from 5 November to 10 December 1966. It is Patrick Troughton's first full story as the Doctor.-Plot:...

", second incarnation of the Doctor
Second Doctor
The Second Doctor is the second incarnation of the protagonist of the long-running BBC television science-fiction series Doctor Who. He was portrayed by character actor Patrick Troughton....

, played by Patrick Troughton
Patrick Troughton
Patrick George Troughton was an English actor most widely known for his roles in fantasy, science fiction and horror films, particularly in his role as the second incarnation of the Doctor in the long-running British science-fiction television series Doctor Who, which he played from 1966 to 1969,...

, awakens from his first regeneration and eventually faces one of his old nemeses, the Daleks
Dalek
The Daleks are a fictional extraterrestrial race of mutants from the British science fiction television series Doctor Who. Within the series, Daleks are cyborgs from the planet Skaro, created by the scientist Davros during the final years of a thousand-year war against the Thals...

, a race of armed robotic tank shells with organic operators. Human space colonists
Space colony
Space colony may refer to:* Space colonization, any colony outside of the planet Earth* Space habitat, a free-floating extraterrestrial colony specifically-Fiction:* Space colony , fictional space colonies in the Gundam anime series...

 examine "dead" Daleks and, upon their re-activation, conjecture as to "what sort of positronic brain must this device possess." However, the Daleks are actually organic life-forms that were encased in robotic shells, and thus do not possess the purported positronic brain and, in any case, do not obey the Three Laws of Robotics
Three Laws of Robotics
The Three Laws of Robotics are a set of rules devised by the science fiction author Isaac Asimov and later added to. The rules are introduced in his 1942 short story "Runaround", although they were foreshadowed in a few earlier stories...

.

In the seventeenth season (1979–80) story "The Horns of Nimon
The Horns of Nimon
-Outside references:The plot of this serial incorporates aspects of the story of Theseus and the Minotaur - a fact the Doctor comments on at the end of the last episode...

", the fourth incarnation of the Doctor
Fourth Doctor
The Fourth Doctor is the fourth incarnation of the protagonist of the long-running BBC British television science-fiction series Doctor Who....

, played by Tom Baker
Tom Baker
Thomas Stewart "Tom" Baker is a British actor. He is best known for playing the fourth incarnation of the Doctor in the science fiction television series Doctor Who, a role he played from 1974 to 1981.-Early life:...

, recognizes the Labyrinth
Labyrinth
In Greek mythology, the Labyrinth was an elaborate structure designed and built by the legendary artificer Daedalus for King Minos of Crete at Knossos...

-like building complex that serves as the lair of the Nimons as resembling both physically and functionally a "giant positronic circuit". When adequately fuelled, the giant circuit was capable of transferring massive amounts of energy over vast distances in order to generate two black holes as gateways to hyperspace
Hyperspace (science fiction)
Hyperspace is a plot device sometimes used in science fiction. It is typically described as an alternative region of space co-existing with our own universe which may be entered using an energy field or other device...

 and to sustain a tunnel that served as the motive power between them for the transport of an invading force of Nimons from the dying planet Crinoth to Skonnos.

In the fifth series (2010) Doctor Who
Doctor Who
Doctor Who is a British science fiction television programme produced by the BBC. The programme depicts the adventures of a time-travelling humanoid alien known as the Doctor who explores the universe in a sentient time machine called the TARDIS that flies through time and space, whose exterior...

story "Victory of the Daleks
Victory of the Daleks
"Victory of the Daleks" is the third episode in the fifth series of British science fiction television series Doctor Who. It is written by Mark Gatiss and first broadcast on BBC One on 17 April 2010....

", the Daleks
Dalek
The Daleks are a fictional extraterrestrial race of mutants from the British science fiction television series Doctor Who. Within the series, Daleks are cyborgs from the planet Skaro, created by the scientist Davros during the final years of a thousand-year war against the Thals...

 creates a human-cyborg scientist 'Bracewell', that is implanted in to the British scientific community to develop technology for the war effort. The creation was said to be controlled by a positronic brain.

Blade Runner


The phrase 'positronic brain' appears in the introductory material of the Blade Runner
Blade Runner
Blade Runner is a 1982 American science fiction film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, and Sean Young. The screenplay, written by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, is loosely based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K...

 screenplay, but was not used in the final film.

Star Trek


The fictional characters Lieutenant Commander
Lieutenant Commander
Lieutenant Commander is a commissioned officer rank in many navies. The rank is superior to a lieutenant and subordinate to a commander...

 Data
Data (Star Trek)
Lieutenant Commander Data is a character in the fictional Star Trek universe portrayed by actor Brent Spiner. He appears in the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation and the feature films Star Trek Generations, Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Insurrection, and Star Trek...

, his "mother" Julianna Soong Tainer, and his brothers Lore and B-4 from the Star Trek
Star Trek
Star Trek is an American science fiction entertainment franchise created by Gene Roddenberry. The core of Star Trek is its six television series: The Original Series, The Animated Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise...

 series The Next Generation
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Star Trek: The Next Generation is an American science fiction television series created by Gene Roddenberry as part of the Star Trek franchise. Roddenberry, Rick Berman, and Michael Piller served as executive producers at different times throughout the production...

, are androids equipped with positronic brains created by Dr. Noonien Soong. Data explains in “Time's Arrow, Part 1” that Lore’s positronic brain is equipped with a type L phase discriminating amplifier and Data's own with a type R. In the episode "The Offspring", Data creates an offspring named Lal with a similar but somewhat more sophisticated brain. After a short time she displays promising advances in emotion and other human behaviors that Data has not been able to master, but later dies of a "rapid positronic cascade failure" shortly after she is told that Starfleet
Starfleet
In the fictional universe of Star Trek, Starfleet or the Federation Starfleet is the deep-space exploratory, peacekeeping and military service maintained by the United Federation of Planets . It is the principal means by which the Federation conducts its exploration, defense, diplomacy and research...

 wants to separate her from Data. In the episode Datalore, Lieutenant Natasha Yar
Tasha Yar
Lieutenant Natasha "Tasha" Yar, played by Denise Crosby, is a character in Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the fictional series, the character served as chief of security aboard the USS Enterprise-D for the first season....

 refers to the positronic brain as Asimov's dream (although in reality, Asimov admitted that he was only looking for a "scientific" sounding word when choosing the term "positronic"). Because Lore was malevolent, and Data was an independent entity, it is unlikely that Tasha was referring only to the Laws of Robotics. The episode "Brothers" depicts an unnumbered quantity of androids (and/or android parts) that preceded both Lore and Data. These are assumed to also possess positronic brains in some form or fashion with each being an improvement over the last.

None of these androids are constrained by Asimov's robot laws; Lore, lacking ethics and morals, kills indiscriminately. Data, though his actions are restricted by ethical programming provided by his creator, is also capable of killing in situations where it is absolutely necessary.

"Positronic implants" were used to replace lost function in Vedak Bareil's brain in the Deep Space 9 episode "Life Support".

Once Upon a Time... Space


The animated sci-fi series Once Upon a Time... Space
Once Upon a Time... Space
Once Upon a Time… Space was a French animated TV series from 1982, directed by Albert Barillé.-Synopsis:Once Upon a Time... Space differs from the rest of the Once Upon a Time titles in the sense that the series revolve on a dramatic content rather than an educational premise...

 features an android with a positronic brain, Métro.

Perry Rhodan


In the German science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

 series Perry Rhodan
Perry Rhodan
Perry Rhodan is the name of a science fiction series published since 1961 in Germany, as well as the name of the main character. It is a space opera, dealing with several themes of science fiction. Having sold over one billion copies worldwide, it is the most successful science fiction book series...

, positronic brains (German: Positroniken) are the main computer technology; for quite a time they are replaced by the more powerful Syntronics, but those stop working due to the increased Hyperimpedance. The most powerful positronic brain is called NATHAN and covers large parts of the Earth's moon. Many of the larger computers (including NATHAN) as well as the race of Posbis combine a biological component with the positronic brain, giving them sentience and creativity.

I, Robot, 2004 Film


The robots in the 2004 film I, Robot
I, Robot (film)
I, Robot is a 2004 science-fiction action film directed by Alex Proyas. The screenplay was written by Jeff Vintar, Akiva Goldsman and Hillary Seitz, and is very loosely based on Isaac Asimov's short-story collection of the same name. Will Smith stars in the lead role of the film as Detective Del...

also have positronic brains. Sonny, one of the main characters from the film, has two separate positronic brains—the second being a positronic "heart"—so it has choices open to him the other robots in the film do not have. Sonny also has the possibility of being able to develop emotions and a sense of right and wrong independent of the Three Laws of Robotics
Three Laws of Robotics
The Three Laws of Robotics are a set of rules devised by the science fiction author Isaac Asimov and later added to. The rules are introduced in his 1942 short story "Runaround", although they were foreshadowed in a few earlier stories...

; it has the ability to choose not to obey them.

The film also features a colossal positronic brain, VIKI, who is bound by the Three Laws. Its interpretation of the laws allows VIKI to directly harm humans in order to protect humanity as a whole in an application of the Zeroth Law.

Bicentennial Man


The robots in the 1999 film Bicentennial Man (based on one of Asimov's stories) also have positronic brains, including the main character Andrew, an NDR series robot that starts to experience human characteristics such as creativity. Only when Andrew allows his positronic brain to "decay", thereby willfully abandoning his immortality, is he declared a human being. This event takes place on the two-hundredth anniversary of his creation, hence the title.

The Number of the Beast


In The Number of the Beast
The Number of the Beast (novel)
The Number of the Beast is a science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein published in 1980. The first edition featured a cover and interior illustrations by Richard M. Powers...

 by Robert A. Heinlein
Robert A. Heinlein
Robert Anson Heinlein was an American science fiction writer. Often called the "dean of science fiction writers", he was one of the most influential and controversial authors of the genre. He set a standard for science and engineering plausibility and helped to raise the genre's standards of...

 published in 1980, positronic brains are mentioned fleetingly in chapter 46 as a threatened replacement for Dora, a space yacht's computer from various others of Heinlein's books, including The Cat Who Walks Through Walls
The Cat Who Walks Through Walls
The Cat Who Walks Through Walls: A Comedy of Manners is a science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein published in 1985. Like many of his later novels, it features Lazarus Long and Jubal Harshaw as supporting characters.-Plot summary:...

.

Tiny Tank


The titular protagonist of the PlayStation game Tiny Tank has a positronic brain, which is revealed during one of the many comical arguments he has with the director of an ad campaign designed to prove his superiority to humans at serving his wartime functions.