Australian National University
Published in two parts in IEEE Computer (December 1993, January 1994)
© Australian National University, 1991, 1992, 1993
With the death of Isaac Asimov on 6 April 1992, the world lost a prodigious imagination. Asimov stated many times his attitude to robotics, and his motivation in creating, and writing stories based on, his 'Laws of Robotics'. He regarded robotics as a promising technological innovation to be exploited and managed, not, as writers before him had done, as a threat to be feared.
This paper examines the stories that he wrote, not from the perspective of the literary critic but rather as a 'gedankenexperiment' - as an exercise in thinking through the ramifications of the design. The conclusion is reached that the body of work achieves the reverse of Asimov's stated intention: it creates serious doubt about the possibility of devising a set of rules which would provide reliable control over semi-autonomous machines.
A robot may not act unless its actions are subject to the Laws of Robotics
A robot may not injure humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm
A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm, unless this would violate a higher-order Law
(a) A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with a higher-order Law
(b) A robot must obey orders given it by superordinate robots, except where such orders would conflict with a higher-order Law
(a) A robot must protect the existence of a superordinate robot as long as such protection does not conflict with a higher-order Law
(b) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with a higher-order Law
A robot must perform the duties for which it has been programmed, except where that would conflict with a higher-order law
A robot may not take any part in the design or manufacture of a robot unless the new robot's actions are subject to the Laws of Robotics
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