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Some of Asimov's science fiction short stories and novels predict that this suspicion will become strongest and most widespread in respect of "mechanical men" that most-closely resemble human beings (see android), but it is also present on a lower level against robots that are plainly electromechanical automatons.
The name, "Frankenstein complex", is derived from the name of Victor Frankenstein in the 1818 novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley. In Shelley's story, Frankenstein created an intelligent, somewhat superhuman being, but he finds that his creation is horrifying to behold and abandons it. This ultimately leads to Victor's death at the conclusion of a vendetta between himself and his creation.
In much of his fiction, Dr. Asimov depicts the general attitude of the public towards robots as negative, with ordinary people fearing that robots will either replace them or dominate them, although dominance would not be allowed under the specifications of the Three Laws of Robotics, the first of which is:
- "A robot may not harm a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm."
However, Asimov's fictitious earthly public is not fully persuaded by this, and remains largely suspicious and fearful of robots. I, Robot's short story "Little Lost Robot" is about this "fear of robots".
In Asimov's robot novels, the Frankenstein complex is a major problem for roboticists and robot manufacturers. They do all they can to reassure the public that robots are harmless, even though this sometimes involves hiding the truth because they think that the public would misunderstand it. The fear by the public and the response of the manufacturers is an example of the theme of paternalism, the dread of paternalism, and the conflicts that arise from it in Asimov's fiction.
The same theme occurs in many later works of fiction featuring robots, although it is rarely referred to as such.
- Jean-Jacques Lecercle, Frankenstein: Mythe et Philosophie (Press Universitaires de France, 1997)
- Shuntaro, Ono, Frankenstein Complex: what can change someone into a monster(Seisoushobou, 2009) 小野俊太郎『フランケンシュタイン・コンプレックス』（青草書房 2009年）
- Olander, editors Patricia Warrick, Martin Harry Greenberg, Joseph (1978). Science fiction : contemporary mythology : the SFWA-SFRA (1st ed.). New York: Harper & Row. pp. 252. ISBN 0-06-046943-9.
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- Romero, Simon (2018-12-31). "Wielding Rocks and Knives, Arizonans Attack Self-Driving Cars". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-08-07.
- Albert, Victoria (31 December 2018). "Arizonians Attack Waymo's Self-Driving Cars in Protest: NYT". The Daily Beast.