Frankenstein complex  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

In Isaac Asimov's robot novels, the Frankenstein complex is a term that he coined for the fear of mechanical men. Some of Asimov's S.F. short stories and novels predict that this phobia will become strongest and most widespread when being directed against "mechanical men" that most-closely resemble human beings (see android), but it is also present on a lower level against robots that are plainly electromechanical automatons. The "Frankenstein Complex" is similar in many respects to Masahiro Mori's uncanny valley hypothesis.

The name, "Frankenstein Complex", derives from the name of Dr. Victor Frankenstein in the groundbreaking novel, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, written by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley in about the year 1818. In Ms. Shelley's story, Dr. Frankenstein created an intelligent, somewhat superhuman being. He finds that his creation is horrifying to behold, and he abandons it. This ultimately leads to Victor's death at the conclusion of a vendetta between himself and his embittered creation.

Note the distinction between "Dr. Frankenstein" the creator and Frankenstein's monster: a Frankenstein complex is not a fear of roboticists, scientists, or even mad scientists, but rather, a fear of artificial human beings, although fear of one generally implies some fear of the other.

The general attitude of the public towards robots in much of Dr. Asimov's fiction is fear and suspicion: ordinary people fear that robots will either replace them or dominate them. Although dominance is impossible under the specifications of the Three Laws of Robotics, which state clearly,

A robot may not harm a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm,

the fictitious earthly public does not generally listen to this logic, but rather they listen to their fears. The short story, I, Robot, is an example of the "Fear of Robots" that Asimov described.

In Asimov's robot novels, the Frankenstein Complex is a major problem for roboticists and robot manufacturers. They do all they can to calm the public and show that robots are harmless, sometimes even hiding the truth because the public would misunderstand it and take it to the extreme. The fear by the public and the response of the manufacturers is an example of the theme of paternalism, the dread of paternalism, and the conflicts that arise from it in Asimov's fiction.

See also

  • Frankenstein argument - an argument against engineered intelligent beings (but not specifically robots)
  • Uncanny valley - a hypothesis that posits a gap in emotional response to things created to resemble humans that fall short of perfect mimicry.

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