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Monday, January 2, 2017

Isaac Asimov's birthday

A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey the orders given 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 Laws.
~ Isaac Asimov (wiki), from "Runaround," Amazing Science Fiction, March 1942

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge." 

~ Asimov ("A Cult of Ignorance," Newsweek, 21 January 1980) 

It has always been my ambition to die in harness with my head face down on a keyboard and my nose caught between two of the keys. 

~ Asimov (in Farewell - Farewell

Today is the anniversary* of the birth of Russian-born American writer and scientist, Isaac Asimov (wiki) (1920-1992), particularly known for his works of science fiction and his books on science for non-scientists. Born Isaak Yudovich Ozimov to a family of Jewish millers in Petrovichi, Russia, he emigrated with his family to Brooklyn, New York in 1923 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1928. Azimov later attended Columbia University, eventually earning an MA in chemistry and a Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1948.** Upon completing his doctorate, he taught biochemistry at Boston University and remained affiliated with that institution for most of the rest of his life.

However, Asimov's writing soon became his primary focus and the engine of his growing fame. As a youth, he had discovered an intense interest in pulp science fiction, by 11 was writing his own stories, and at 19 was a regular contributor to various science fiction magazines. Eventually, he published over 300 books on an astounding variety pf topics, including first-rate science fiction novels and stories, such as the Foundation trilogy (1951-53) and I, Robot (if you don't feel like reading it, the Will Smith movie version will give you a good sense of this one), and factual books on science for the layperson, such as The Human Brain (1964) and The Collapsing Universe (1977), He also wrote on humanistic topics such as literature, religion, and history and by the end of his life was perhaps the most famous popular-science writer in the world. 

* N.B. Asimov's actual birth was sometime between 4 October 1919 and the following 2 January, but he always considered the later date to be his birthday:
In Memory Yet Green: The date of my birth, as I celebrate it, was January 2, 1920. It could not have been later than that. It might, however, have been earlier. Allowing for the uncertainties of the times, of the lack of records, of the Jewish and Julian calendars, it might have been as early as October 4, 1919. There is, however, no way of finding out. My parents were always uncertain and it really doesn't matter. I celebrate January 2, 1920, so let it be.
** Asimov's studies were interrupted for three years by World War II, when he worked as a civilian in the Philadelphia Navy Yard and then spent nine months in the Army. 

Related posts and links:

In 1959 Issac Asimov wrote a paper for DARPA on creativity. It was just published recently.

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