As every good science-fiction fan knows, robots and their interactions with humans are governed by Isaac Asimov’s Laws of Robotics. In the real world, however, the laws of robotics apply very differently.
The Laws of Robotics
Isaac Asimov was one of the greatest science-fiction writers of all time. He created a fictional list of three laws of robotics that robots must be programmed to follow. These had to be followed in order, with the first law being the most important. The laws are:
- 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 Law.
- A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
At first glance, these fictional laws seem to be fairly good guidelines for interactions between humans and robots. But they were never meant as any form of law. They have formed the basis of many science-fiction writers’ work. But they are fictional and don’t exist in our society, even though many of our industries and social interactions involve robots. Currently, robots have killed humans, they can enter contracts and have formed part of the technology for driverless cars.
Instead, our society has Robot Law. Robot law covers a whole variety of issues regarding robots including robotics, AI, driverless cars and drones. It also impacts on many human rights including dignity and privacy.
Robot law is an exciting and rapidly developing area of law that will have a major impact on our world. And while Asimov’s laws of robotics are fictional, they are still used to guide thinking about robots in both science-fiction and the real world. In fact, the recent EU report on the civil law rules of robotics in Europe includes reference to the four laws of robotics. It says that robot law must be built on the principles of the three laws of robotics, until robots are advanced enough to be programmed to obey them themselves.
We are excited to see how robot law continues to develop, and we take our virtual hats off to Mr Asimov for creating – without knowing it – the foundation for robot law to build on.