|"The Evitable Conflict"|
|Published in||Astounding Science Fiction|
|Publisher||Street & Smith|
|Media type||Print (magazine, hardback, paperback)|
|Publication date||June 1950|
|Followed by||"Robot Dreams"|
"The Evitable Conflict" is a science fiction short story by American writer Isaac Asimov. It first appeared in the June 1950 issue of Astounding Science Fiction and subsequently appeared in the collections I, Robot (1950), The Complete Robot (1982), and Robot Visions (1990). It features the character Stephen Byerley from the earlier "Evidence".
Following on from the previous story 'Evidence,' in the year 2052, Stephen Byerley has been elected World Co-ordinator for a second term. Earth is divided into four geographical regions, each with a powerful supercomputer known as a Machine managing its economy. Byerley is concerned as the Machines have recently made some errors leading to economic inefficiency. Consulting with the four regional Vice Co-ordinators, he finds that several prominent individuals and companies associated with the anti-Machine "Society for Humanity" have been damaged by the Machines' apparent mistakes.
Byerley believes that the Society is attempting to undermine the Machines by disobeying their instructions, with the goal of retaking power as humans, and proposes to have the movement suppressed. Susan Calvin tells him that this will not work, contending that the errors are in fact deliberate acts by the Machines. The Machines recognize their own necessity to humanity's continued peace and prosperity, and have thus inflicted a small amount of harm on selected individuals in order to protect themselves and continue guiding humanity's future. They keep their intent a secret to avoid anger and resistance by humans. Calvin concludes that the Machines have generalized the First Law to mean "No machine may harm humanity; or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm." (This is similar to the Zeroth Law which Asimov developed in later novels.)
In effect, the Machines have decided that the only way to follow the First Law is to take control of humanity, which is one of the events that the three Laws are supposed to prevent.[original research?]
Asimov returned to this theme in The Naked Sun and The Robots of Dawn, in which the controlling influence is not a small conspiracy of Machines but instead the aggregate influence of many robots, each individually tasked to prevent harm.