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twiddle ones thumbs

Catch that Rabbit

"Catch that Rabbit" is a science fiction short story by Isaac Asimov that was first published in the February 1944 issue of Astounding Science Fiction and reprinted in the collections I, Robot (1950) and The Complete Robot (1982).

Chapter 4

The recurring team of Powell and Donovan are in charge of field tests on an asteroid mining station with a robot, DV-5 (Dave). But the robot stops producing ore, and cannot explain why. The robot is a new model with six subsidiary robots under its control via positronic fields, a means of transmission not yet fully understood by roboticists. When they secretly observe the robot, it starts performing strange marches and dances with its subsidiaries whenever something unexpected happens. It is up to the two field testers to figure out why Dave is acting the way he is. This observation-dependent behaviour alteration, hindering the resolution of the robots' behavioural bug, makes it an early example of a Heisenbug.

Here, Asimov anthropomorphises by having a robot twiddle its thumbs when it finds itself overwhelmed by its job. (Which is to say that one of the characters draws that analogy; how seriously Asimov meant it is unclear.) In many cases, robopsychology - personified by Susan Calvin - runs parallel to human psychology. For instance, at this point in I, Robot we have already seen hysteria and religious mania.

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