The Evitable Conflict
written by Isaac Asimov
published in 1950
Also a title in the Susan Calvin series.
Set in the Foundation universe
Following on from the previous story 'Evidence', in the year 2052, Stephen Byerley has been elected World Co-ordinator for a second term. He has been consulting the four other Regional Co-ordinators on various matters concerning activities in their geographic areas. In particular, he is concerned with their relationships with the Machines and any anti-Machine movements. He then asks Susan Calvin for her opinion.
They conclude that the Machines have generalized the First Law to mean "No machine may harm humanity; or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm." (This is similar to the Zeroth Law which Asimov developed in later novels.)
Byerley proposes, in effect a 'witchhunt', in which all anti-Machine movements, in particular the 'Society for Humanity', are outlawed. Any executive and technical appointments must require the signing of an anti-society oath. Calvin refuses her support; concluding that the "glitches" are deliberate acts by the Machines. They allow a small amount of harm to come to selected individuals in order to prevent a large amount of harm coming to humanity as a whole.
In effect, the Machines have decided that the only way to follow the First Law is to take control of humanity, which is one of the events that the three Laws are supposed to prevent.