Positrons, Lasers, Robots and Isaac Asimov


Physicist Dr Scott Wilks from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory presented a talk at Robot Garden on Thursday October 6 titled, “Positrons, Lasers, Robots: How close does our science come to Asimov’s vision of the future?”.

Given our love of robots, lasers and positrons, this was a great topic to launch the new Robot Garden evening talks.  Dr Wilks and attendees who arrived early were able to take a short tour of Robot Garden, The Switch and meet with Positron Dynamics, the startup doing fusion in the basement. There may even be some closer collaboration between LLNL and The Switch startups in the future as a result of the meeting.

Dr Wilks’ presentation was very well received. He included information about the latest work with fusion (and positrons) at LLNL but related everything back to “Isaac Asimov’s vision of the future”, a series of predictions written for the 1964 World’s Fair more than 50 years ago.


Isaac Asimov (1920 – 1992) is perhaps the world’s most famous science fiction writer. He wrote over 500 books and was credited with publicizing the word robot. His work was recognized by the 111th Congress on March 9, 2010 in House Resolution 1055, “supporting the designation of National Robotics Week as an annual event”. The following passage appears in the text of the bill:

“Whereas the second week in April each year is designated as ‘National Robotics Week’, recognizing the accomplishments of Isaac Asimov, who immigrated to America, taught science, wrote science books for children and adults, first used the term robotics, developed the Three Laws of Robotics, and died in April, 1992.”

Some of Asimov’s most well known work is the Foundation/Empire series and The Positronic Robot/Susan Calvin stories, in which Asimov wrote the very popular Three Laws of Robotics. It’s an ongoing discussion as to how much, if at all, these laws can guide robotics and AI development.

Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics

  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 the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence, except where such protection would conflict with the First or Second Law.

While the Laws of Robotics are still fiction not fact, it’s astonishing how accurate was Asimov’s ‘vision of the future’ for the 1964 World’s Fair. Not only did he correctly identify many major technological developments but his sense of how long it would take for technologies to come to fruition was spot on. Of course, there were one or two slip ups, but nowhere has anyone made more consistently correct predictions of future technology.

Dr Wilks took the audience on a tour of the recent DARPA Robotics Challenge, self driving vehicles and fusion experiments at Lawrence Livermore, all in line with Asimov’s prediction.

Dr. Wilks received his BA degree in physics from UC Berkeley and his Ph.D. in plasma physics from UCLA in 1989 under the supervision of John Dawson. Since then, he has been a research scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Dr. Wilks is the recipient of the 2006 Award for Excellence in Plasma Physics Research. This version of his talk was recorded earlier in the year at Livermore Library. Do you have suggestions for future talks at Robot Garden? Email andra@robotgarden.org

Coming up this week at Robot Garden:

Bots & Beer

Wednesday, Oct 12, 2016, 7:00 PM

Robot Garden
2324 Second Street Livermore, CA

5 Makers & Mechanics Attending

It’s time we had Bots & Beer in the East Bay! (And where better than at Robot Garden.)Bots & Beer is the monthly social meetup for roboticists and has been running for more than 5 years now in Silicon Valley and more recently San Francisco.Bring your robot for show’n’tell!

Check out this Meetup →

Robot Garden: Aquaculture/Gardening Special Interest Group (SIG)

Saturday, Oct 15, 2016, 1:00 PM

Robot Garden
170 S Livermore Ave. Livermore, CA

3 Makers & Mechanics Attending

Please join us as we merge our aquaculture and gardening interest to provide Robot Garden an attractive courtyard to support community events.  Our goal will be to establish a self-sustaining eco-system to support experimentation & education activities for Robot Garden and our landlord The Switch.Look forward to seeing you at the meeting.

Check out this Meetup →



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