Robot laws: Are the Asimov rules a starting point? - Pérez

Regulation: maths
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AI: basic laws
Robot laws: Are the Asimov rules
a starting point?
From an ethical
point of view,
Asimov´s three
The three laws of
laws represent basic
Isaac Asimov present
principles of human
several problems. In
society and, thus,
addition to potential
there are no objections
technical issues (such
from an ethical
as ‘Is it possible to
standpoint regarding
impose such laws on
the laws themselves.
the programming of
Luis Franco
Indeed, as Asimov
an AI system? How can
we prevent the laws being removed pointed out, there should be no
difference between the actions
– either by an external agent or
of a robot compelled by the
by the robot itself?) on which I am
not qualified to comment, there are three laws and the actions of a
very good man: self-preservation
also practical and ethical issues to
(third law) is a natural instinct
From a practical point of view, of all living creatures, all proper
citizens should defer to the
it must be taken into account
proper authorities (second law)
that, in order for the three
and, naturally, try to protect
laws to achieve their intended
purpose, they must follow a strict other fellow humans (first law).
However, while humans are
hierarchy (the third law cannot be
compelled by similar rules and
breached unless it collides with
laws, which means that their
second law, which in turn cannot
free will is limited, these rules
be breached unless in conflict
are external to their being,
with the first law). However, this
rigidity generates a great number signalling that human beings are
still inherently, and ultimately,
of problems and paradoxes.
free; In other words,
If we consider, for
individuals have the
example, a scenario
choice to breach any
in which the only way
given rule, regardless
for a robot to prevent
of the consequences,
a catastrophe – or a
legal or otherwise.
crime – is to harm
However, for a truly
a human being, the
sentient self-aware
robot in question
AI system, the
would not, could not,
programming of these
take action, as this
laws into its system
would contradict
would mean denying
the first law. This
it of a free will. In this sense, this
particular paradox could be
would be comparable to altering
solved by implementing an
someone’s DNA so that he or she
additional law (the “zeroth law”,
as Asimov called it) which would complies with a given set of rules.
Asimov’s three laws of
supersede the other three laws
robotics offer a useful starting
and run as follows: “no robot
point, however they may not
may cause harm to humanity,
suffice to solve the problem, or
or allow humanity to be harmed
due to its inaction”. However, this even be ethically valid at all, in
the long run.
new law would only solve this
particular set of paradoxes and,
Luis Franco is a Litigation and Arbitration
in turn, create additional ones.
Lawyer at Pérez-Llorca
by Luis Franco
by Noel Leaver
Using algorithms for complex
tasks is nothing new apart from
the name. Any job that has a set
of detailed procedures or rules is
using algorithms. For example,
railways have a huge “Rule Book”
for staff to make operation as safe
as possible, and anyone using a
recipe is following an algorithm.
However, a computer performing
the algorithm does create some
Computers are capable
of following very complex
instructions, but the more
complex the instructions the
greater the chance there is an
error in them. And the computer
has no “common sense” to tell it
when something is going wrong
– though people sometimes do
equally stupid things because the
instructions say so.
Computers operate very
quickly, so a lot can go wrong
before a human notices. On the
other hand, they are not lazy and
don’t try and take short cuts.
There is no need, therefore,
for new laws, as if you use
a computer for a task this is
similar to employing a person
and telling them what to do. You
have to ensure they are instructed
correctly and capable of the task,
and you should monitor them to
make sure the results are what
you expect. So with a computer
you need to do sufficient testing
that you believe it is doing the
job correctly in a wide variety of
circumstances before you use it
in anger.
You also need to monitor its
“work”. In many cases this might
be a similar level of oversight to
what you would do if a human
were employed. It becomes more
difficult if split second decisions
are being made – for example,
controlling a car or making stock
trades. Then human oversight
may be of no use: you need a
computer (perhaps the same one
running another algorithm) to
apply test to the results to make
sure they are within what you
define as reasonable limits, and
to check for particular dangerous
circumstances and take action to
avoid trouble
The more critical the task and
the more potentially damaging
its results, the more confident you
will need to be that the program
is working properly, and the more
effort you will need to put into
“overseeing” it. If you fail to do
so you will be negligent and liable
to prosecution. By far the most
worrying computer controlled
devices, therefore, are weapons
designed to kill people.
A problem with the use of
algorithms is people’s faith in
computers, they don’t understand
what a computer is doing but
assume that it must be correct
even if it appears to be doing
something stupid. Fortunately,
increased familiarity with
computers has made this attitude
less common than it was.
Noel Leaver studied mathematics and
computing at Cambridge University,
then worked as a designer on software
packages in logistics and banking for a major
computer company.
Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics
robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a
human being to come to harm.
robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except
where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection
does not conflict with the First or Second Laws
The rules come from the Handbook of Robotics, 56th Edition,
2058 A.D, according to the “I, Robot” series which started in 1950.