The U.S. television series Rick and Morty uses the term Asimov cascade in the episode „Mortyplicity“. In this way, the popular animated series refers to the sci-fi author Isaac Asimov, who attracted attention with his three laws of robotics, among other things. But what exactly is an Asimov cascade?
Summary explanation: What is an Asimov cascade?
The Asimov cascade is established in Rick and Mortyplicity (season 5, episode 2). It plays with the rules of Isaac Asimov’s robotics. In doing so, the episode humorously highlights the complex issues involved with Asimov’s theory. Among them the question: what if robots fight robots who ever think they are real people – what laws apply then? And how can such a loop be broken?
Rick and Morty – An insight into the episode Mortyplicity
The US animated series Rick and Morty has been running on international TV since 2013. Thus, between 2013 and 2021, five seasons have been released, each with about 10 episodes of 22 minutes. The creation of author Dan Harmon (Community) and voice actor and writer Justin Roiland originally parodied the cult film Back to the Future. The short film thus conceived eventually evolved into its own series – and an entire franchise with comics, video games and multi-faceted merchandise. The series Rick and Morty is known for its absurd sci-fi plots and wacky comedic elements. However, the show does not shy away from thoughtful or even philosophical questions, as episode 2 of season 5 proves.
In Mortyplicity, the second episode of the fifth season, the mad scientist Rick creates a family of robots to act as decoys and thus distract from the actual family. The bait family artificially created in this way creates robotic baits of their own again, which consequently leads to a cascade – a complex chain of events. For the families thus artificially created each think of themselves as the real family and go after each other out of an instinct for self-preservation. The triggered deadly confrontations are called cascade in the episode Asimov.
Mortiplicity is an example of Rick and Morty’s complex humor, which at the same time knows how to reflect challenging topics and questions. Creator Dan Harmon already demonstrated his talent for this kind of meta-humor in his series Community (2009-2015). He likes to mix sometimes provocative fecal humor as well as pop culture with serious and relevant topics that make the audience think. With Mortiplicity, the show explicitly references Isaac Asimov’s Laws of Robotics, naming the episode’s central phenomenon the Asimov Cascade.
Isaac Asimov and his three laws of robotics
The world of science fiction is traditionally divided into hard science fiction and soft science fiction. Isaac Asimov is considered one of the central representatives of hard science fiction, a form of fictional narrative that nevertheless weaves scientific questions and phenomena into its plot. And so Isaac Asimov built complex considerations of robot logic into his popular stories. Asimov’s scientific interest presented in this way was based on his work as a biochemist.
During his lifetime (1920-1992), the Russian-American writer Asimov was able to contribute some elementary works of science fiction to world literature. Famous, for example, is his Foundation cycle, at the center of which is the Foundation trilogy: Foundation (1951), Foundation and Empire (1952), and Second Foundation (1953). In the German version, the novels appeared under the titles Terminus, der letzte Planet, Der Mutant, and Alle Wege führen nach Trantor. Throughout his life, Asimov was able to build his standing as a sci-fi author to the point that he was considered the Big Three of English-language science fiction, along with Arthur C. Clarke and Robert A. Heinlein.
The issues of robotics ran through his work, including his Foundation cycle. His short story Robbie (1940) is considered an early work with reference to robotics. In it, he emancipated himself from the classic Frankenstein tales, which told of creations that turned against their creators. Instead, in his story Runaround (1942), he defined the foundations of an entirely different robotics that turned against this concept of destruction. The three laws of robotics can be roughly summarized:
1. a robot must not turn against humans
2 It should obey humans as long as they respect the first law.
3. it shall protect its own existence, as long as this does not conflict with law 1 or 2
The Asimov cascade applied: Explanation
The absurd situation in the Rick and Morty episode Mortyplicity ties into Asimov’s laws of robotics in a wacky way. Asimov established these laws to ensure the protection of the creator from his robotic creation and the protection of the robotic creation itself. But in the case of Rick and Morty’s extreme „Asimov Cascade Failure,“ these laws come into apparent conflict.
The artificial families created by Rick ever think of themselves as the real human family. And from their logic it follows that the other families cannot be real. And so, in the context of the spreading conflict, the third law takes effect: protecting one’s own existence. In other words: the other must be destroyed. The irony of the whole story? While the fictional Rick and Mortys themselves are not the real family, their counterpart could very well be, which is why Law 1 and Law 2 should actually take effect – the protection of humans and obedience to the possibly human counterpart. A paradoxical situation. Thus, an absurd loop is created in the episode, which at the same time illuminates Asimov’s laws of robotics in a humorous and subtle way.