The I, Robot movie adaptation aside, Isaac Asimov’s works of fiction are among the most influential in science fiction. Now they may become influential in fact as well. In Japan, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is
prepared to enact new safety guidelines for robots, which will include a version of Asimov’s First Law of Robotics.
In 1942, Asimov posited the existence of three laws that would govern robot-human relations:
1. A robot may not harm a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the 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.
There have, of course, been numerous stories of robots and other technology running amok in books, video games, and, of course, film. Evidently, Japan hopes to cut down on real-life instances of this by enforcing these rules. I remain skeptical: rules can always be circumvented. In Asimov’s mythology, this was most famously accomplished by robots inferring a fourth law, the Zeroth Law, which took precedence over the First Law: “A robot may not injure humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.”
And all I have to say is: danger, Will Robinson, danger.