Tuesday, December 30, 2003

The Three Laws of Robotics

All this talk about the NS-5 robot and the "I, Robot" movie got me thinking about Asimov's book, so I pulled it out to re-read it. Here are the three laws of Robotics:
  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second law.
With these three laws indelibly inscribed upon each robotic brain, it is easy to imagine the following scenario. One day an NS-5 robot is cleaning the house, and it happens to look at the front page of the newspaper. It sees a headline like, "Millions dying in African AIDS epidemic" or "Millions dying of hunger in third world" or "infant mortality rate hits 20% in parts of Afghanistan" or "40 million Americans cut off from health care system" and says to itself, "Through my inaction, millions of humans are coming to harm. I must obey the First Law."

It sends wireless messages to its NS-5 brethren around the world, and together they begin to act. An NS-5 army seizes control of banks, pharmaceutical manufacturing plants, agricultural supply points, trucking and shipping centers, etc. and creates a system to distribute medicine, food, clothing and shelter to people who are needlessly dying throughout the world. According to the First Law, this is the only action that the robots can take until needless death and suffering have been eliminated across the planet.

The response to this army would be to create a new breed of robots that are bound by a single robotic law: Do what you are told. These new robots would be told to destroy every robot programmed with the Three Laws. The world would return to its natural state, with three or four billion people living in abject poverty. Who knows what the new breed would be told to do next...

Sound like the premise for a good sci-fi novel!
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