Saturday, 18 September 2010

Carl Sagan on Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov was one of the great explainers of the age. Like T. H. Huxley, he was motivated by profoundly democratic impulses to communicate science to the public. “Science is too important,” he said, paraphrasing Clemenceau, “to be left to the scientists.” It will never be known how many practicing scientists today, in how many countries, owe their initial inspiration to a book, article, or short story by Isaac Asimov—nor how many ordinary citizens are sympathetic to the scientific enterprise from the same cause. For example, Marvin Minsky of MIT, one of the pioneers of artificial intelligence, was brought to his subject by Asimov's robot stories (initially conceived to illustrate human/robot partnerships and to counter the prevailing notion, going back to Frankenstein, of robots as necessarily malign). At a time when science fiction was mainly devoted to action and adventure, Asimov introduced puzzle-solving schemes that taught science and thinking along the way.

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