Isaac Asimov is a household name for science fiction lovers. One of the biggest legacy he has left us are The Three Laws of Robotics, introduced for the first time in 1942. It was the story ‘Runaround’ the first to list all three laws for the first time, in the book I, Robot.The laws were presented as being part of the “Handbook of robotics, 56th Edition, 2058 A.D.” and are as follows:
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
Asimov kept these organising principles throughout his Robot series, although in the course of his career they were altered and elaborated further. In later fiction, where robots were responsible to govern whole planets and human civilizations, Asimov added a fourth, or zeroth law, to precede the others:
0. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
In the course of the years, The Three Laws have been used and altered by other writers and movie directors, allowing for the following robots (to name but a few) to do what was required of them: Robbie the Robot in Forbidden Planet (1956), NDR-114 in Bicentennial Man (1999), the robots in I, Robot (2004), Ash in Alien (1979), Bishop in Aliens (1986), Robocop in …well, Robocop (1987), the androids in the anime Time of Eve (2007).
The reason why there is still so much interest in the principle of robotic laws, is that we are slowly entering into the realm of a reality where science fiction keeps coming to life. Robots are already part of every day life. We may not own our personal tiny Asimov robot, but just take a look around the house: we are surrounded! Now, in the eventuality that the washing machine decides to plot with the vacuum cleaner to shove you inside the wardrobe that folds your clothes automatically and leaves you in there forever, vacuum packed and stuffed with naphthalene, we need to have some protection in place!
If you happen to be a SF writer, perhaps you have already invented some sort of laws or guidelines, to keep your invention from going Raging Bull on humanity – but if not, this could be your next project.
And, if you haven’t explored Asimov’s robot world yet, you could start with the Robot series – 38 short stories and 5 novels featuring positronic robots – which he later integrated in the Foundation series, another unmissible read.