Foundation of disappointment

Much like Apple TV+’s teaser starts, people have been trying to adapt Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels for fifty years and have failed. Even Dune is more adaptable than Foundation. This may sound overtly exaggerated, but it’s all about the fundamental nature of Foundation; it is about the sociology of humanity, not the psychology. What I mean by this that Foundation has no protagonist we follow through or witness heroic events. Foundation is all about concepts and promises of action, much like how Hitchcock would plant a bomb underneath a table to make two men discussing something suspenseful. Even the creator of the novels’ psychohistory, Hari Seldon, is not seen in the flesh after the first story, par prequel novels.

Perhaps I need to get back to what Foundation is about. It is not exactly about the fall of the Galactic Empire. The fall in itself is not important, it’s background material, the start of it all. Foundation is about humanity’s actions and how we can use psychohistory, a fictional statistical science combined with psychology, to statistically predict how humanity will act in the future. While seemingly a success at first, Asimov moves towards proving faults and weaknesses in psychohistory later in the series, much like how he established the Laws of Robotics and then proceeded to explore all the ways they could be broken and how faulty they innately were. As said, the fall of the Galactic Empire is just the background, the kick-off point where the Seldon Plan begins, a plan for Seldon’s established the Foundation to nudge humanity bit by bit to certain directions with careful manipulations to shorten the galactic Dark Age that follows after the fall of the Empire from thirty thousand years of barbarism and violence to mere thousand. Everything goes right at first, there are no deviations with the plans and Seldon’s recordings are correct what happens long after he has been dead. These Seldon Crises are predicted events that put the Foundation to the test, first being how the Foundation has to deal with four different kingdoms who broke off from Empire during the fall. These crisis are dealt with in a manner how Seldon has predicted, until an element outside humanity throws a monkey wrench into the gears. Psychohistory can only account humanity and its actions, but not unknowns from outside. Though even that becomes somewhat questionable due to introduction of Robots into the Foundation series and Hari Seldon being aware of future plans of one R. Daneel Olivaw.

None of this would make terribly exciting television of film though. Foundation lacks punching action that most other science fiction works might find themselves under, like the Robot novels. Supposedly, Asimov himself had said how he regretted how much of Foundation was people sitting around and talking. It works in book form, especially when it’s the concepts and realisation of those concepts matter, but on television it is jarring. You simply can’t be faithful to the Foundation novels when adapting them, which is why Apple TV+’s adaptation takes the predictable action-romp route. It’s extremely easy to take the first Foundation story and simply set it during the Fall of the Galactic Empire, with all the violence and murder that would take place at Trantor, the capital world of the Empire. However, all the interesting spots for television and films happens removed from what’s truly interesting in the novels. Take for an example the Second Seldon Crisis, where the Foundation has provided nuclear power to its neighbouring kingdoms after the first crisis, but has tied its running and maintenance into a guise of religion of the Great Galactic Spirit. When one of the nations try to advantage of their superior military power and attack the Foundation, the population revolts against the rulers as they have violated against the Galactic Spirit. For television and film, all the military parts and people revolting would make good entertainment, but what’s on paper is not this. What Asimov wrote was about discussing how and why the Foundation enacted these religious rules, proceeding to a discussion about the nature of this religion and how much power this religion truly holds as the mastermind of the attack futilely tries to act on his plan. This is one of the motifs in Foundation, where there is heightened tension, which is solved because of plans and solutions build into the problem itself, negating violence. Violence is the last resort of the incompetence, as the series states.

Foundation is space opera and political thriller with heavy emphasize on solving problems. Hollywood must have something bombastic. Science fiction as a genre on TV and film require huge front-up savings, be on streaming services or in the theatres. Thus, resorting to Star Wars-ifying Foundation with battles and action, be it in riots or shoot-outs, is the easiest way to it easily palpable to the generic audiences. This is why, for example, the SciFi original mini-series adaptation of the Dune had some added action elements, or why its 1980’s movies version changed and added things to make carry more impact on the screen. Sure we can argue that milking a cat is a very Lynchian change, and making it rain on a desert planet makes a great looking ending even if it is absolutely retarded. What the Apple TV+ teaser promises is not Foundation, but Foundation as adapted by Hollywood; a dreary looking series filled with action and violence in space. Is that all SF is now? Ever since rebooted Battle Star Galactica science fiction on television has become more and more depressing and violent, making shows like Star Trek effectively remove their true core in exchange of violence and swearing.

If adaptations for the Foundation has been attempted for the last fifty years, why would it suddenly be feasible? Technology has never been the issue. We’ve had great script writers who have been able to adapt books before into movies in faithful and successful manner well before the millennium change hit us. The only thing that seems to have changed is streaming and companies wanting to find themselves IPs they can market and gain viewers. Foundation, being a cornerstone in literature, seemingly would fit just fine among all the other SF works that streaming services are offering. It only makes sense to actionify it then, seeing it’s going against shows like modern Star Trek shows, Mandalorian and whatever else Star Wars stuff that Disney’s going to throw out, and even The Orville. The name is used to drive a similar vehicle just to match these other titles. This adaptation has been lingering in development hell for a decade and then some. It’s no surprise it’s getting out in this form at this time. As such, what hopes there are for an adaptations that wouldn’t bastardise the source material? There ‘s no love in here for Foundation. If you’ve read the original novels, or have heard the terrific radio drama by BBC 4, you can expect this adaptation to disappoint.

Asimovian Mega Man

The opening crawl of Mega Man X states that Mega Man X, the title character. is the first type of new robots able for independent thought, or to quote, has the ability to think, feel and make their own decisions. Right after this, the first rule of robotics is mentioned in a shortened form; A robot must never harm a human being. This is how the first rule was originally quoted, if not for verbatim. However, the full updated rule is as follows; A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. As such, the game directly states that all previous robots in the game franchise, have been under the rule of Asimov’s Laws.

Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics are a cultural cornerstone, as Asimov’s robot stories explore and make extended use of them. While they are capable of independent thinking, they are governed by the three laws. To what extend they are able to independently act and think depends on the level of the technology, but all are ultimately slaves to the three laws. However, as Asimov’s robots are based on logic rather than reason, these three laws are easy to get around with proper logic.

Each three laws override their predecessor, meaning the protection of human comes before the second law, fully quoted as a robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. This overrides the third and final law, which stahtes that a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

In Mega Man, we see these three laws playing a role in how Rock becomes Mega Man. The canon states that it was his strong sense of justice that convinced his transformation from a household robot into a super fighting machine. What concept of ‘justice’ Rock had is unknown, but the result wanting to fight injustice, even if it required setting himself under threat and oppose commands from a human, Dr. Wily in this case, enforced the first law in form of no human being would be harmed. The logic here is that by opposing one human, Rock is able to prevent harm or injury of many more.

This, of course, is as according to the 0th Law of Robotics Asimov later added; a robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

Combined with the Asimov’s laws and the clear statement that X is the first robot able to independently think sets to stone the fact that all robots in the Classic series are slaves to pre-determined models that they can’t branch off from, and are slaves to the Three Laws of Robotics.

Within Asimov’s robots, the three laws have been embed into robots on mathematical level to their positronic brain. Without completely redesigning and reconstructing the positronic brain as a concept itself, these three laws can’t be removed. However, it is possible to remove a rule in descending order depending how advanced the robot needs to be, halving the needed brain size and pathways.

However, Mega Man robots don’t have positronic brains. Instead, they have micro-electronic brains, which seems be more dependent on the creator driven programming than the Three Laws. We can take two stances on the laws here; either the laws are universal among the robots, or that the laws must be implemented into them by design in each separate case.

If the laws are universal, we can assume that Dr. Wily was capable of creating some sort of separate method to circumvent the First Law, which would yield the whole Robot Virus Project. While not canon to the games, Hirotoshi Ariga’s Mega Man Megamix the Three Laws are circumvented by Wily implementing a separate chip that allows the original six Robot Masters to injure and harm humans by direct action. As such, it would not be necessary to change the design of function of the micro-electronic brain, when Wily has a ready made chip he can install into whatever creation he makes. This also assumes that the micro-electronic brain works in a similar fashion to the positronic brain.

The second take of course means that there is no standard template for the robots’ brains in Mega Man and are completely dependent on the coding skills of the creator. The basic hardware may be shared across the board, but the Laws themselves are not burned to the core design. This would give more leeway in how the robots function. After all, the canon states that Dr. Wily reprograms  robots he capture, thus we can assume the basic template does not function similarly to the positronic brain, but the Three Laws are a software function.

Even without the Three Laws governing the actions of the robots, they would be slaves to the predetermined to the lines of code. This makes them nothing more than automatons, unable for creative thinking. However, with the existing Three Laws, a robot must be able to device ways to upheld the laws. When Proto Man tells Bass that he can’t defeat Mega Man, because he has nothing to fight for, this can be taken as Bass lacking the Three Laws. He is inert in how he fights, as his main drive is to defeat Mega Man. Mega Man, however is governed by the First Law, and knows that his lost would contradict said Law. Of course, this is more about the moral of the things, but the two don’t exclude each other.

However, there is a place that in-action provides context for Mega Man robots essentially functioning according to Asimov’s robots, including the functions of the positronic brain; the ending of Rockman 7. In here, when Dr. Wily reminds Mega Man that he is simply a robot and can’t harm a human being, the First Law kicks in and contradicts his actions, causing him to pause. This is a moment many Asimov’s robots go through, where the probability is calculated within the brains for the route of least harm at that moment. This was changed in the localisation, where Mega Man 7 has Mega Man stating that it is more than a robot, Giving Mega Man the Pinocchio syndrome is an interesting idea in itself, but it fights against what the series has established.

While the robots in Classic series seem to exhibit natural personalities, they are far closer to pseudo-personality, similar to Star War‘s droids. Droids have a pre-programmed nature that they can’t deviate from, exactly like Mega Man‘s robots. Both also accumulate data, which they can then make decisions on, but in Mega Man‘s case, they can’t learn without additional data to their coding. Hence, why Rock’s transformation process was more than just donning an armour and weapon; it required rewriting some of his core pseudo-personality.

Within Mega Man X era, Reploids are robots based on X’s design. X was sealed to test whether or not he would be reliable. How, is the question, with the Three Laws of Robotics being the answer. Without them, X must be tested based on his reason and morals rather than mathematical probability and logic. Whatever brain he has must be more advanced than positronic or micro-electronic, perhaps similar to gravitonic brain in Roger MacBride’s Allen’s Caliban series of books set in Asimov’s universe, which allow X to have empty pathways, which would then build during the testing. Funny enough, both the first Caliban book and Mega Man X were published the same year.

If we consider the Three Laws to be suggested, something that’s learned rather than implemented, the very nature of the created Reploid should be beneficial from the get go. This would put greater emphasize on the initial creation of the programming, especially seeing how Reploids are created as mature beings rather than educated. Think of the training the clone troopers get in Star Wars, which teaches them skills and ethics required. Similar flash training could be adopted for Reploids in faster pace, but this does not seem to be the case. As such, mental deficits and errors are at the hands of the creator.

The viral reason for going Maverick seems to follow two corrupting paths; removal of any resemblance of the Three Laws and corruption of the personality. I say resemblance, as they’re exactly like moral laws any human society has. They’re not set in stone, and can vary widely. Secondly, Dr. Wily is the origin of this virus, meaning its coding has to be tied to the original nature of Classic series robots. Because of this, the free-willed robots of the X-series will uphold their own morals, even if it would clash with the Asimov’s laws.

Reploids, despite most of them seen in-game being more animal in appearance, resemble Asimov’s advanced humaniform robots, where there would be no distinction between humanity and robots when advanced far enough. Many times over in the series, Reploids labelled as Mavericks simply wish to gain their independence from humanity. However, no Reploid group has been allowed to so, and it would even seem that Reploids are labelled as Mavericks for political reasons, giving hints how oppressive the human government is over mechanical life forms. There is large amount of story potential in here, something we’ll never going to see.

The true end realisation of Asimov’s humaniform robot, as discussed in Robots of Dawn, is seen in Mega Man Legends, where the civilisation the player sees considers themselves as humans and are generational, able to reproduce, live and die. In effect, outside the ability to customise one’s body, there is no distinction between human and artificial human life. Both the World and Master Systems are bound to the Three Laws of Robotics, as their prime directly is to protect humanity, and do not recognize Carbons, or Decoy’s in original Japanese, as humans. Furthermore, the Mother Units of the System are built with the positronic brain, as mentioned by the games, creating a very Asimov-like situation, where Mega Man Volnutt recognizes that Carbons are humanity through their nature. This enforces his First Law function to protect them, further explaining how he ends up being the one defending Carbons, especially after the Master, last living human being, enforced Volnutt’s logic through their discussions. The System’s other parts, however, still act according to the logic of Carbons being artificial, thus the First Law does not concern them.

It might seem that Reploids are the most advanced form of robotics in Mega Man series by this comparison. However, it does seem that the ultimate end of humanity and robots is to become one within the frachise, and whether or not the Three Laws of Robotics governs Carbons is not important at that point, as they have already become the legacy and successors of humanity.