Born in Russia, Asimov had a difficult early life due to poor health and anti-Semitic persecution from the czarist regime of the time. He emigrated with his family to America at age three and grew up poor on New York's lower east side. Here he discovered a love of reading a talent for writing. At age eleven, he submitted his first story to the magazine Amazing Stories and it was published in the April 1938 issue. His later interest in science fiction formed the nucleus from which grew his numerous works that have been translated into dozens of languages all over the world.
Throughout this period he also worked as a professor of biochemistry at Boston University School of Medicine, although science fiction formed the bulk of his professional output. It was not until 1950 that he wrote what many consider to be the most influential work of his career: "I, Robot". A collection of short stories, it introduced for the first time his concept of robots as servile machines that would eventually evolve into something more than just tools. However, unlike many other writers in this genre who developed their own rules and moral codes within which their characters operated, Asimov introduced his "Three Laws of Robotics".
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey the orders given by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
Their programming is essentially an explanation of how to implement the above three rules i.e. a set of procedures for dealing with particular problems that may arise. The various stories are full of examples e.g. what should happen if a human gives conflicting orders? The design approach partly existed already in "cybernetic" theory, which is based on communication between different processes inside an organism, rather than each process being controlled by a detailed program. Many people found it far-fetched that programs could be written that would enable robots to behave as Asimov's stories required because they assumed that the robot would have to know very detailed information about the human world in order to solve such problems. Asimov's robots had to be designed with this ability, rather than programmed. The information about humans was derived from the robot's own senses and actions with respect to them, not pre-programmed.
Asimov also introduced the Zeroth Law to his fictional universe. This supersedes the Three Laws when humanity itself is threatened, but has prompted significant debate in-universe over its legitimacy and so it is not considered canon by many readers. The three primary laws are collectively known as "Asimov's Laws".
The campaign for civil liberties that he developed through his books and stories has been attributed as a partial inspiration for the formation of Mensa International. Asimov went on to write hundreds of other works that include novels, non-fiction works on science and history, and numerous anthologies which contain short stories by himself and other leading figures in speculative fiction such as Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, and Frank Herbert.
He also released a book in the late '80s titled "Gold" which was a collection of humorous short stories that have been immensely popular with fans for years. The idea that science can solve all our problems if enough resources are provided for its projects was not only never questioned, but was (and still is) widely thought to be the only attitude that makes sense.
Asimov's stories have been much imitated, especially in Hollywood, but no one has yet repeated his achievement of making a story rich in ideas and feasible technical detail without a single boring paragraph or wasted word.
Illness and death— He died in Manhattan on April 6, 1992, and was cremated. The cause of death was reported as heart and kidney failure.