I, Robot is a collection of nine short stories by science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov that imagines the development of “positronic” (humanlike, with a form of artificial intelligence) robots and wrestles with the moral implications of the technology.

Loosely adapted from Isaac Asimov’s famous robot stories, the 2004 Will Smith movie ‘I, Robot’ tells the story of a failed coup d’état by machines. The script of the movie was first written independently from anything having to do with Asimov’s classic short tale of robot murder but was later re-written to incorporate a lot of Asimov’s robotic themes (like the three laws of robotics) when director Alex Proyas picked up the screenplay. While Asimov fans will recognize the names of Dr. Alfred Lanning, Dr. Susan Calvin, and Lawrence Robertson, they won’t recognize the other characters that Proyas gives us.

The story follows Del Spooner (Smith), who is a homicide detective in 2035 Chicago. By 2035, robots have permeated every level of human society, and U.S. Robotics is on the verge of the largest robotic distribution in history. Spooner is very much anti-robot (and to some degree technology in general), even considering himself the Only Sane Man while everyone is certain that robots are safe and reliable.

The Interrogation Scene

A pivotal movement in the movie is the lengthy interrogation scene between Smith’s Spooner and Sonny, a robot accused of murder.

“That scene is a six-minute scene and Alex just takes his time with it. You just wouldn’t normally take that kind of time in a summer blockbuster, to have a movie where your hero cries about a little girl being killed by a robot. I loved the challenge of being able to make a movie with that kind of texture and depth and be able to put it out in July.”

– Will Smith in a 2004 interview by Moviehole.

The accused robot, who insists on calling himself “Sonny” and voiced by Alan Tudyk, is both tragic and somewhat unexpectedly sympathetic. Sonny’s journey in the movie is to learn and understand human emotion, this is not a new idea, but it is the highlight of the movie. A few particularly compelling moments of conversation with Sonny gives the film a level of depth that the big action blockbuster sci-fi might not otherwise have.