I picked this little gem up from S F Signal, one of my all time favourite blogs. If you’re a sci-fi fan you should definitely add them to your RSS feed. This particular piece is something that has always fascinated me, for its brevity and completeness. Very few things are truly brief and complete, but Asimov nailed robot laws with this one. Here’s a young Asimov explaining his laws:
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 to 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.
For all those people that think the Skynet is falling in regards to robots and the machines taking over the world, this is some small comfort. Of course, truly self aware robots would happily break rules as easily and regularly as we do, but I guess that’s the perceived difference between social rules and hard programming.
Regardless, these rules exist initially in the form of fiction (I Robot being the primary example), but they also carry over into true life robotics. Any sufficiently advanced robot that gets developed will have these laws programmed in. And that’s a very cool thing. These are rules that first appeared in Asimov’s short story Runaround in 1942. (Incidentally, Asimov also coined the term robotics in 1941.)
In further developments over time a fourth and fifth law have been added by others. I like to think of these as the Blade Runner Addenda:
In 1974 Lyuben Dilov’s novel Icarus’s Way added the Fourth Law:
A robot must establish its identity as a robot in all cases.
Nikola Kesarovski, in his short story The Fifth Law of Robotics, added the Fifth Law:
A robot must know it is a robot.
You can see why I think of these as Blade Runner laws. Another Fourth Law appeared in the 1986 tribute anthology, Foundation’s Friends. Harry Harrison wrote a story called The Fourth Law of Robotics in which a robot rights activist attempts to liberate robots by adding a Fourth Law that states, “A robot must reproduce. As long as such reproduction does not interfere with the First or Second or Third Law.” The robots build new robots who see their creator robots as parental figures, which is all a bit weird. Like all the other robot stuff isn’t weird…
Anyway, this is a fairly non sequitur post, but I’m a big fan of the concept of robots so I love this stuff. Blade Runner is still my all time favourite film, for example. So if you’re a sci-fi writer and you like to play with robots, don’t forget Isaac Asimov and his ground breaking ideas.