Isaac Asimov, the wildly imaginative and visionary Russian-born author known as the father of robotics and a master of hard science fiction, died on this day in 1992. Besides his family, he was survived by more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters.
Born Isaak Yudovich Ozimov in Soviet Russia sometime between 1919 and 1920, Asimov moved to the US when he was three years old, beginning an eclectic education in science fiction pulp magazines, at Columbia University, and in the US Army, before joining the faculty at the Boston University School of Medicine where he taught biochemistry.
But Asimov’s real love was writing, and he spent much of his life turning out sci-fi stories and humanizing robots. Asimov spent up to 12 hours a day, every day, writing, from his desk, bathtub, and even in his hospital bed when he grew old and feeble. He wrote so much he could type 95 words per minute.
Contrary to the contemporary sci-fi tradition, which postulated that robots were evil, Asimov dreamed up a world–through his books–where robots were good and humans didn’t need to fear the technology they created. Asimov’s works were almost startlingly prophetic. His breakthrough sci-fi story collection, I, Robot, told some of the first tales about the interactions between humans, robots, and morality. Robbie and Runaround imagined a future in which mechanical men would do human jobs.
The idea behind those stories inspired General Motors to create Unimate, the first industrial robot, as well as paving the way for widespread automation in modern industry. The Naked Sun was a warning bell of sorts predicting a future in which men would use robots in war. With its advanced robotics and unmanned drones, the modern battlefield looks increasingly like Asimov’s predictions. And in Bicentennial Man Asimov foretells a future in which man and machine will merge as robotic parts supplant human parts. Today, bionic limbs, implanted smart chips, and robotic exoskeletons bear testament to Asimov’s predictions.
Were he alive today, Asimov, who coined the term “robotics,” would see that the futuristic vision of a robo-friendly world he imagined in his prolific body of fictional work has become a reality. Asimov died on 6 April 1992 in New York.