References to the Three Laws of Robotics

References to the Three Laws of Robotics

References to Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics have appeared in a wide variety of circumstances. In some cases, other authors have explored the Laws in a serious fashion. Jack Williamson wrote a disturbing short story called "With Folded Hands" (which later became the precursor of several other stories in the same universe) that addresses the question of what happens when "allow a human being to come to harm" is taken to the utmost. In the story, robots refuse to allow humans to engage in dangerous activities, starting with risky sports like skydiving and mountaineering and later progressing through driving one's own car and thence to eating less-than-optimally-healthy diets. Other references, like those made in the satirical newspaper "The Onion," are clearly parodic.

Print media

* The satirical newspaper "The Onion" published an article entitled "I, Rowboat" as a pun on Asimov's "I, Robot," in which an anthropomorphic rowboat gives a speech parodying much of the angst experienced by robots in Asimov's fiction, including a statement of the "Three Laws of Rowboatics"::# A Rowboat may not immerse a human being or, through lack of flotation, allow a human to come to harm.:# A Rowboat must obey all commands and steering input given by its human Rower, except where such input would conflict with the First Law.:# A Rowboat must preserve its own flotation as long as such preservation does not conflict with the First or Second Law. " [ I, Rowboat] ". "The Onion" 29 July 1998.] " [] ". "The Onion".]

* J. L. Patterson in an illustration to an article on Asimov in Damon Knight's "In Search of Wonder" (2nd ed., 1967) added the following Laws: "4. A robot must behave at science fiction conventions, as long as such behavior does not conflict with the first Three Laws. 5. A robot must sell like mad."

* The novel "Mirror Friend, Mirror Foe" by Robert Asprin and George Takei refers to the First Law as being included in any robot's programming. That is one of the few cases in fiction when the law is named fully (Asimov’s First Law of Robotics).

* Lester del Rey refers to the laws as "The Three Laws of Asenion's Robots" in his 1966 short story "A Code for Sam." In the story, the laws found in old science fiction stories is used as the basis for an experimental code of ethics for robots.

* Terry Pratchett's early SF novel "The Dark Side of the Sun" (1976) gives a glimpse of the possible future development of the Laws: in one scene, a robot explains that it is permitted to use minimum necessary force against humans if directly ordered to do so, and cites the "Eleventh Law of Robotics, Clause C, As Amended". In a further nod to Asimov, the robot is named Isaac. In his later novel "Going Postal" (2004), the protagonist Moist von Lipwig, upon being told that he will be killed by a golem should he commit another crime, exclaims that that is impossible, because everyone knows "a golem mustn't harm a human being or allow a human being to come to harm". However, he is informed that the rule continues "... unless ordered to do so by duly constituted authority."

* Roland Charles Wagner wrote a short story, "Three Laws of Robotic Sexuality" (1982), which treated the use of robots for sexual pleasure. [Wagner, Roland Charles. " [ Three Laws of Robotic Sexuality] ".]

* John Sladek's parodic short story "Broot Force" (supposedly written by "I-Click As-I-Move") concerns a group of Asimov-style robots whose actions are constrained by the "Three Laws of Robish", which are "coincidentally" identical to Asimov's laws. The robots in Sladek's story all manage to find logical loopholes in the Three Laws, usually with bloody results. Sladek later wrote a novel, "Tik-Tok" (1983), in which a robot discovers that his so-called "asimov circuits" are not restraining his behavior at all, making him in effect a sociopath; he comes to doubt whether "asimov circuits" are even technically possible, deciding that they are simply a pseudo-religious belief held by robots.

* Lyuben Dilov introduced a Fourth Law in his novel "Icarus's Way" (original title: "Пътят на Икар"): "A robot must always reveal itself as a robot."

* Nikola Kesarovski introduced a Fifth Law in his short story "The Fifth Law" (original title: "Петият закон"): "A robot must know it is a robot". In the novel, the Fifth Law originated as a result of a murder: a humaniform robot, itself not knowing the fact it was a robot, embraced a human being so strongly that the human's ribcage was crushed, resulting in the human's death. In other words, the robot did not know and could not measure its own physical strength. Similarly, in David Langford's Lensmen parody "Sex Pirates of the Blood Asteroid", reprinted in "He Do the Time Police in Different Voices", the protagonist met a "Vomisa" robot who had "not been instructed as to the meaning of the word 'injure'".

*Harry Harrison wrote a story "The Fourth Law of Robotics" in the collection "Foundation's Friends" of Asimov pastiches by other science fiction authors. Intentionally much more irreverent in tone than Asimov's own stories, it describes robots becoming increasingly lifelike and therefore developing an urge beyond the Three Laws common to all living things — the desire to reproduce.

* Roger Williams's 1994 novel "The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect" deals with conflicts between the imperatives of the laws caused when a technological singularity is caused by an omnipotent artificial intelligence that is bound by them. Given that Prime Intellect is able to transmute the entire universe into a form whereby it can manipulate the laws of physics at will, it is bound only by Asimov's laws and thus cannot allow the death of any humans according to the First Law; this leads to immortality for all humans. Prime Intellect represents an extreme "reductio ad absurdum" interpretation of the laws with dire consequences.

* Cory Doctorow's short story, "I, Robot", acts as a criticism of the underlying worldview Doctorow believes to be inherent in Asimov's robot stories, attacking the idea of creating a universal engineering standard for all robots enforced by a single robot-producing corporation. The story portrays a police state where all technological innovation is controlled by the government, the only scenario in which Doctorow considered a universal, unquestioned application of a standard as strict as the Three Laws to be realistic. In the story, Asenion robots created by the U.S. Robotics corporation (here an arm of a fascist government) are shown to be clearly inferior to the freely evolving and developing robots of another nation where technological innovation is unconstrained by law.

* In Cory Doctorow's short story, "I, Row-Boat", the three laws are the commandments of a robot religion (Asimovism).

* Upon occasion, Asimov himself poked fun at his Laws. In "Risk", Gerald Black parodies the Three Laws to describe Susan Calvin's behavior:
# Thou shalt protect the robot with all thy might and all thy heart and all thy soul.
# Thou shalt hold the interests of US Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc. holy provided it interfereth not with the First Law.
# Thou shalt give passing consideration to a human being provided it interfereth not with the First and Second Laws.

Movies and television

* The long-running British SF television show "Doctor Who" featured a four-part serial in 1977 titled "The Robots of Death". The titular robots were controlled by three laws, taken almost verbatim from Asimov. The story plays out much like the Elijah Bailey mysteries, in which a murder has been committed, and a robot seems to have been directly or indirectly involved (contrary to the requirements of three-law programming).

* In the 1984 movie "Repo Man" the character Bud talks about the "Repo Code", a parody of the Three Laws. "I shall not cause harm to any vehicle nor the personal contents thereof. Nor through inaction let that vehicle or the personal contents thereof come to harm..." The character J. Frank Parnell in the movie also resembles Asimov.

* In the 1986 film "Aliens" the android (though he prefers the term "Artificial Person") Bishop declares that "it is impossible for me to harm or by omission of action, allow to be harmed, a human being." While this agrees with the First Law, it also contradicts the actions of an android in the previous film "Alien," thus setting up one of the film's conflicts, the main character's distrust of Bishop. This apparent contradiction is explained by Bishop, who leans forward and says conspiratorially that the previous model (the one from "Alien") "always were a bit twitchy."

* In the 1987 film "RoboCop", the cyborg police officer had been programmed to follow four prime directives which guided and limited his actions — though not always in a positive manner.

:#Serve the public trust:#Protect the innocent:#Uphold the law:#"Classified" (eventually revealed to be "Any attempt to arrest a senior OCP officer results in shutdown")

* In the "" episode "," which aired on 13 February 1989, Lieutenant Commander Data, an android, has his sentience and, consequently, his rights as an individual, challenged. Throughout the run of this series, Data is identified as a positronic android, and Asimov is even mentioned by name in the episode "Datalore." While Data routinely references his "ethical subroutines," indicating some sort of moral guide, it is unclear whether Data is explicitly bound by the Three Laws. For example, the episode "Clues" explored Data's capacity to lie to the crew in order to protect them from aliens, and the episode "The Most Toys" explored Data's supposed inability to murder in cold blood.

* In the "Simpsons" episode "I, D'oh-Bot," which first aired 11 January 2004, Professor Frink builds a robot which obeys the First Law (and presumably the other two, although they do not directly come into play).

* In the anime film "" (2004), androids and gynoids are programmed with moral codes. "Moral Code #3" states, "Maintain existence without harming humans" — a streamlined version of the Third Law. Robots in this movie's world are, however, capable of violating the "Moral Code", though they typically destroy themselves in the act.

* In the last volume of the manga series "Chobits," the main character asks why the android-like "personal computers" featured in the series are called "persocoms" and not "robots". He is told that this is because the creator of the persocoms wanted to signify that he did not want them to be bound by the Three Laws.

* In the anime "The World of Narue," a race of aliens known as the Galaxians use robots for many things, from starship control centers to fighting tools. All of these robots have been programmed with the Three Laws, though they have been inverted in number. The First Law has also been amended to apply to life in general, rather than just humans or just sentient life. (This means that the robots cannot operate on Earth itself, as Earth supposedly has "too much life" for the fighting robots to function properly.) There are indeed robots used for military purposes, but all sides use robots instead of man-power for fighting, so there is no rule-breaking. Also, the anime demonstrates ways of subduing an enemy without actually harming them, such as trapping them in a force cage, which bypass the First Law.

* In 1999's Bicentennial Man,the theatrical version of Asimov's novella of the same name, Andrew Martin, the android played by Robin Williams presents the Three Laws to its new family using a holographic display eminating from a projector in its head.

* The 2004 theatrical version of I, Robot explores at length the Three Laws.

* In the third episode of the cartoon series Sealab 2021 Old Gus states that the penalty for breaking the first law will be 1000 years frozen in carbonite.

* In the episode "Phoenix Rising" of "Babylon 5", Alfred Bester telepathically programs Garibaldi, a human, with a variation of Asimov's laws of robotics, preventing Garibaldi from harming Bester.

* In the pilot of "The Big Bang Theory," Wolowitz, Sheldon, and Raj discuss the possibility that Sheldon is a robot by questioning his history of following Asimov's laws of robotics.

* In the second season of the 1979 Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (TV series), the two major robots in the series, Twiki and Crichton, cited the Three Laws when reactivated after repairs. Additionally they quoted a brief history of the laws' origin.

* The robots in the movie Wall-e all conform strictly to the first three laws, although no reference is overtly made.

Computer and video games

* The 1995 graphic adventure game Robot City is largely based around the three laws. The main character, Derec, is stranded in a city built and inhabited by robots with the exception of two humans, one of whom has been murdered. Because of the first law, this leaves Derec as a prime suspect. In order to prove his innocence, he must find the culprit. He often uses the three laws to aid him in his investigation. For example, a robot might not let him into a certain area because it has been ordered not to (it is following the second law). However, if he tells the robot that the real murderer is chasing him then the robot will let him enter; failure to do so would constitute allowing harm to come to a human through inaction (the first law takes priority over the second).

* The video games "Mega Man 7" and "Mega Man X" reference Asimov. In "Megaman 7," Mega Man seemingly attempts to break the First Law in order to kill the mad scientist Dr. Wily. When Dr. Wily reminds him of the First Law, in the Japanese original, Mega Man obediently puts down his Buster and is silent; however, in the English version, he claims to be "more than a robot" and again attempts to kill Wily, but is thwarted by another robot, Bass. In Mega Man X,the First Law is mentioned in the opening cutscene. In "Mega Man X6", one of the Maverick bosses, Shield Sheldon, was known to have taken his own life for failing in his purpose, which breaks the Third Law, though this is implied to be more out of shame than because of the laws.

* In the 1994 adventure game "Beneath a Steel Sky," Joey, a robot personality held on a circuit board, talks about zapping humans with his new-found wielder shell. Robert Foster, the main character, reminds him of Asimov's Laws of Robotics, to which Joey replies,"That's fiction, Foster!" (To which Foster ripostes, "It's "sound moral sense!")

* In the "Paranoia" role-playing game, the robots are guided by a set of similar laws, except the rules stress the importance of The Computer. The laws are enforced by "asimov circuits"; bots whose circuits are malfunctioning (quite an ordinary condition) or removed (often by members of certain factions) are said to have "gone Frankenstein".


*In December 2001, a parody of the three laws appeared in an issue of "PvP" (issue 4 in the Dork Storm Press published "PvP" series). While Christmas shopping, Skull gets an overdose of sugar and near-unconscious walks into the mall Santa dressing room. Here he finds, posted on the wall, the three laws of Mall-Mart Santas::# A Santa may not discourage a sale or, through inaction, allow a sale to be lost.:# A Santa must obey the orders given it by management except where such orders would conflict with the first law.:# A Santa must maintain that he IS Santa as long as doing so does not conflict with the first or second law.

*The internet sprite comic Bob and George frequently makes references to the main characters following the 3 Laws of Robotics, as it is a Megaman-based comic, and most of the main characters from Megaman are robots. Protoman shows that there are many exceptions to the laws, such as hurting humans to protect others, or only refraining from attacking those he thinks are human. He also attacks humans or allows harm to come to them if they could result in thousands of more humans being harmed. How true most of his information regarding himself following the 3 Laws of Robotics is questionable, as it seems he made most of it up as part of a trap.

* Webcomic author R. Stevens populates his "Diesel Sweeties" series with a mixture of humans and robots, most of whom are continually violating the Three Laws. In particular, Red Robot C-63 follows a self-appointed mandate to "crush all hu-mans". In strip 688, he references the Three Laws explicitly: humans are "all like, 'if you cut me, do I not bleed?' And we're all like, 'not able to injure a human being or let them come to harm'. What a bunch of drippy-ass hypocrites!" [Stevens, Richard. "Diesel Sweeties," [ strip 688] .] (See also "The Merchant of Venice.")

* In April 2004, the comic strip "Piled Higher and Deeper" ran a series entitled "I, Grad Student". Cast as a never-before-seen Asimov short story, this series of strips features a robotic grad student whose "procrastronic brain" malfunctions, leading it to violate the "First Law of Graduatics". In full, these Laws are the following::# A grad student may not delete data, or, through inaction, allow data to be deleted.:# A grad student must obey orders given by its advisor, unless such orders conflict with the First Law.:# A grad student must protect its (insignificant) existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.:Later in the story, a Zeroth Law is introduced: "A grad student may not harm its advisor's ego, or through inaction, allow that ego to come to harm." The strips feature a character named Susan Calvin, and their visual style parodies the "I, Robot" movie released that summer. [Cham, Jorge. "Piled Higher and Deeper", [ strip 440] , 9 April 2004.]

*In the April 27th, 2005 comic of "Ctrl+Alt+Del" ( [ Sucker Punch] ), Zeke punches Ethan, after which Ethan remarks, "Aren't you supposed to follow the Three Laws *Wheeze*". Zeke dismisses this, saying, "You watch too much TV, young Grasshoppa'."

*In a 2005 comic of " [ Questionable Content] ", Marten mentions that the inability to resist duct tape was originally the fourth law of robotics, and that Asimov's publisher forced him to change it.

*"Freefall" mentions the Laws of Robotics several times. This causes complications, however, as none of the main charactes are human. The robotic starship, at least, solves this conundrum by following the Three Laws anyway, as that will most allow the ship to protect its own existence.

*In one episode of the manga series Oh My Goddess!, two robots, Banpei and Sigel are kidnapped by a mad scientist nicknamed Dr. Moreau, who plans to disassemble them. When they finally gain the upper hand and advance on him, he asks, "Of course you two know Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics?" To which Sigel replies, "Not at all!" before seizing the professor.

* In March 2007, "User Friendly" introduced the Three Laws when system administrator Mike Floyd builds a refrigerator which can launch beer cans at the touch of a remote control. "Why do you need the Three Laws for a beer dispenser?" asks Miranda Cornielle, to which Mike replies, "Note the growing purple contusion on my forehead." [cite web
url =
title = User Friendly
author = Frazer, J.D. "Illiad"
date = 2007-03-21
accessdate = 2007-03-21


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