Understanding Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics
Jan 26, 2019
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Isaac Asimov, the science fiction author, devised three basic laws of robotics in his story 'Runaround'. The robots in his fictional stories always adhere to these laws. Here's some insight on the three laws of robotics.
Did You Know?
In the movie Forbidden Planet, Robby the Robot was programmed to keep distance from humans and not to harm them. Asimov claimed that the robot was programmed to follow his three laws of robotics.
The term 'robotics' was initially used in fictional short stories written by Isaac Asimov. All the laws together appeared in 'Runaround' but the traces of these laws are found in his prior publications as well.
The 'Liar!' was his third robot story, and it was in this book that the first law of robotics appeared for the first time. These laws were used in many robot creations.
However, Asimov and many other science fiction scholars suggested modifications to these laws. Over time, many scholars developed their own versions of the laws, but Isaac Asimov needs to be credited for developing these laws first.
Laws of Robotics Explained
Isaac Asimov's three laws of robotics are a guide to the behavior of a robot and other smart machines. Over time, a lot of modifications have been suggested to these laws by Isaac Asimov himself, and from his contemporaries. Each of these laws are self-explanatory. The original laws as laid by Asimov are:
First Law A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
Second Law A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
Third Law A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Once these laws were formulated and published, Isaac Asimov tested them in his stories. As time passed, Asimov modified these laws.
Modifications to the Laws of Robotics
A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
This law appeared in the novel Robots and Empire, and the first robot to act according to the Zeroth Law was R. Giskard Reventlov. This law was developed by Asimov to protect humanity as a whole. It was only in 1985 that this new law was introduced, whereas the original laws were formulated in 1940.
The revised laws of robotics pointed out that the robot would protect a person even if the survival of the whole human race was at risk. The definition of the word humanity was an additional consideration after the laws were revised by Asimov.
The robots' approach towards humanity changed, and they adopted a more super-ordinate and paternalistic attitude towards humans. The revised laws are:
Zeroth Law A robot may not injure humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
First Law A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm, unless this would violate the Zeroth Law of Robotics.
Second Law A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the Zeroth or First Law.
Third Law A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the Zeroth, First, or Second Law.
Issues With the Laws
Though Asimov repeatedly used the three laws in his writings, the real world application of these laws is not clear. The problems associated with these laws are:
These laws are in fiction! Asimov devised these laws as a part of his story plot. Thus, all of his stories more or less revolved around this concept, and in almost of them, the robots did break these rules.
Difficulty in Replication
As the laws are very vague in nature and are not based on any particular scientific concept, it is very difficult to replicate them into any technology.
The purpose why the laws were made in the first place cannot be fulfilled in the real world. In today's world, we don't build robots with missiles to protect the human race.
The concept of these laws is very fuzzy and unclear in the earlier stories of Asimov. Over the years, many authors have put forth their views on these laws and made changes to them. However, the bigger question of 'whether Isaac Asimov's laws of robotics' are valid in today's world or not, still remains unanswered.