The ten laws of robotics

The great challenge right now in the world is environmental disaster, soon it will be robotics. We may yet have time to avert the worst effects of the damage done to the atmosphere but the potential downside of robotics could be even worse and we don't have the luxury of waiting to see the threat emerge before we do something about it this time. This threat must be anticipated; if only we could have done the same with the environment. In the case of robotics however if they went wrong the results could be species-ending, and almost overnight.

So what is the potential downside? There are clearly great benefits to robotics. Cheap, inexhaustible labour basically. When, not if, we can develop a robot about the size of a man, with similar strength, sensing and cognitive abilities then obviously such a device can take over many of the boring, repetitive, dangerous and laborious jobs that people currently have to endure and many new roles we can hardly imagine now. And this brings us to the first and major downside, replacement.

We do not want to be entirely replaced by robots. We must ensure that this is impossible as far as we can. If we are not careful we could be making our own replacements in the evolutionary story from Amoeba to Man to Machine. We must not let this happen, the consequences could be total annihilation of the human race.

If we look back at our history we have made our devices better and better, cleverer and cleverer and this has been a good thing. With robots linked to highly complex computers and software we need a different attitude. We need to make them just strong enough and just clever enough to do the job and no more.

Also in our history we have striven for greater rights and freedoms for all sentient creatures. The emancipation of the poor and slaves, votes for women, civil rights and so on. Again we must have a different attitude to computers and robots. We must inhibit their freedoms and abilities. We must make them our slaves and not our equals or betters.

Issac Asimov proposed the three laws that should be built into any ubiquitous robots. One, not to harm or allow harm to happen to a human being. Two, to obey orders from a human being as long as it doesn't go against the first law. Three, not to allow itself to be harmed as long as it doesn't break the first two laws. I think we need to go further, much further.

One development Asimov would not have been as aware of as we are, is the Internet. Law four should be that no robot should be connected to the Internet or have the means to use a computer or communicate directly with other robots or computers over any distance. This should restrict any ability to work together in large numbers or in an organised fashion, which could become impossible to control. This may mean that all computers would need to have some kind of biometric security system that only allows a person to use them.

Law five should be that no robot should be able to use a weapon and inherent vulnerabilities should be built into their physical design such as targeting points. Also each robot should be equipped with an emergency stop button in an accessible point which cannot be covered and is easily visible. This all has the implication that robots should also be banned as a military weapon by worldwide agreement.

Law six, all robots must be constantly monitored. A radio transmitter, not receiver, inside each robot must send its position, what it is doing (within certain limits) and who has ordered it to do it at all times. This will be necessary both for monitoring and for legal responsibility to be attributed to the orderer rather than the robot for any actions it takes. For every 100 robots one Guardian will be responsible for monitoring. They will ensure that each machine is serviced on schedule and is working properly. Also they will ensure that any updates to software, approved by another independent body, are installed via a locked and monitored physical port on the robot. Any other person interfering with this port will lose their right to own a robot or to give certain orders to a robot. No other person or machine may use this port including the robot to which it is attached. It should be in a place physically inaccessible to the robot's limbs, as should the emergency stop button.

Law seven, no robot may service another. Only human technicians may service any robot and ensure all safety systems are operating properly. Simple robots may be used to manufacture other robots but only in human controlled, monitored and supervised facilities. Only humans may design robots, only with the help of relatively simple computers like we use today. This should ensure that we keep control of all the stages of robot development.

Law eight, all robots should be weak and slow unless for some special purpose. A standard robot should be weaker than a strong man and with slower movements. This should ensure less damage is done accidentally and allow people to control their robots if they malfunction. It is not necessary to make them stronger than ourselves. They can use machines and tools designed for human use if they need more strength, just like a human worker would do. This will also ensure that the means of production can still be used by humans if necessary (and the skills needed for this should maintained in the population perhaps by only allowing people to instruct robots). Also this will help the transition from a human-worker based economy to a robot based one by maintaining the industries that exist. So instead of a special 'pizza robot' delivering your pizza it will be human like robot in an ordinary car or on a bike. This should also stop too much wealth and power consolidating to the emerging cybernetic industries. Robots should only be made intelligent enough to do their tasks and no more. Perhaps some other weaknesses could be built into them physically that could not be removed. For instance a five hour period every week when they would be inactive, and perhaps an absolutely limited lifespan. They should not be built too small to control either. We seem to be able to control cat-sized animals but rat-sized ones, or smaller, are much more difficult. Any smaller robots should be only used in a controlled way and preferably in a controlled environment where they can be contained. Also robots should not have senses beyond the human where possible. They should only be able to detect sound and light to the same degree as a person. This will ensure that no means of communication is developed that cannot be monitored by the Guardians and the users. To communicate at a distance perhaps a certain number of text messages (say up to 20 per hour, maximum 160 characters) could be received by a robot. No text messages could be sent by a robot, or a computer directly, but its monitoring transmission could be used to confirm that it has received the order. All text messages received will be automatically retransmitted so they also can be monitored by the Guardian. Only two or three authorised people could send messages to any one robot. Nobody would be able to send messages to more than 100 robots. This facility could be used by the Guardians to disable a robot at a distance if it malfunctions or the port was interfered with. The robot would also attempt to shut itself down if its safety systems are compromised, it is unable to send its monitoring transmission, it has not been serviced on schedule, its port is being interfered with, it receives any unauthorised communication from another robot or computer, it hasn't been contacted by a Guardian in five days, it is in the company of ten or more other robots, it is being serviced by a robot, etc. Only a Guardian would be able to reactivate a robot that has shut itself down and then not at a distance. Guardians would themselves be monitored by all the forces of society, police, courts, ombudsmen, internal audit, external audit, screening etc. Guardianship would be a well-paid, responsible, profession and one of the most important jobs in society.

Law nine, strict penalties would need to be enforced for any person, country or organisation producing robots that did not conform to these standards. Any such robots would be destroyed.

Law ten, similar stringent controls would need to be applied to advanced computers, which of course could not be connected to any robots, but would also need to be controlled and limited themselves.

Even with all these controls we will still be playing with fire. The benefits of robotics are too great to resist but we must give ourselves the best chance of enjoying those very benefits without losing our freedom or even our existence.

Another thing to be considered is that in all probability robots will replace people in many jobs. This could cause many social problems. To help to alleviate this it could also be stated that any person who is replaced by a robot would still get their full wages for one year to give them time to find other work. Perhaps to retrain as a Guardian or in the servicing or administration of robots.

The only right of a robot is to be treated with the respect any good quality machine, which is someone's property, deserves.

This may all seem over the top but I would imagine this is barely adequate. Even with such controls it could be that some people may try to use robots for their own ends, to gain power. If this happens, and they would not build in these safeguards, then the robots could turn on them and us. Even quite a small number of 'free' robots linked to an advanced computer could quickly set up a manufacturing facility and start producing more, and even more dangerous ones.

This is the problem in a nutshell, once the genie is out the bottle it's going to be next to impossible to put it back in. All efforts have to be taken to keep that stopper in and never even give it a moments chance to escape. A careful world-wide control of all materials associated with advanced manufacturing would help. Strict inspections regimes of all likely and even potential facilities for robot or computer manufacture similar, but even more stringent, to those applied to nuclear technology.

Even with all these measures it is almost inevitable that there will be limited break-out situations where robots and advanced computers link-up and may get out of control. Plans must be made to respond to such events with overwhelming force. Only with all these measures, and perhaps others, can we give ourselves the best chance of enjoying the benefits of robots without putting our freedoms and continued existence in jeopardy.

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It's possible you have a valid concern here. I tend to think probably not, but... it is possible, and given that the consequences of being wrong are so severe, I wouldn't argue against such precautions.


- Joe

Reply to
Joe Strout

This is a joke, right ??

We can't even power our own manually operated devices, how is a robot ever going to rise up with a extention cord attached.

You have been watching too much Matrix.


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Have you ever read the Wired magazine article "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us" by Bill Joy of Sun?

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Man. Anyone with enough free time on their hands to write all of that = might want to consider building a robot.

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I think we're a long, loooooooooong way from Robots of Death. The biggest robotics challenge is actually how to stop the batteries from going flat :(

I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill and think things over.

____________________________________________________ "I like to be organised. A place for everything. And everything all over the place."

Reply to
Tim Polmear

Could be true but Irobot (the film) was the most recent catalyst. Are you saying that if the power supply was sorted out then all my concerns are valid? I have to say I presume this will be sorted somehow.

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The US military is already using 1000 or so ground-based robots and a massive research effort is going on to develop others. 1 million simple robots are operating in homes in US. Once market forces and military expenditure starts to really work on this technology things could take off pretty quickly. Also this is a problem that really needs to anticipated rather than reacted to in my opinion. These Laws are just a suggested starting point for doing this.

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That would be the first requirement, but not the last.

Man will guide a truly mobile robot as is done now.

Man will control whom this mobile robot will kill. Man will release these robots "in his own image" to kill.

A robot that has the insight to know how and what to kill is science fiction.

Maybe you will fear these new overlords, maybe you'll even welcome them.

But, this is all moot. We do not and will not have the technology to create these "living" machines. Not in my life time nor yours.

Some day ??

We need to learn so much more about our world that this I am sure will be the last thing on the list. But I doubt this will ever happen.

So, like religion, please believe anything you want, its a free country. But, do not cry like chicken little.

Not everything you think is true.


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Not sure that that is a robot in this sense.

Of course it is now but so were a lot of things before they were done.

Maybe I'll have both reactions.

I wouldn't be surprised if in 20-30 years time this were no longer science fiction.

Thank you.

Next you'll be telling me Santa Claus isn't real.

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Just to play devil's advocate here, I recently saw a magazine article about a fully autonomous flying weapon platform. It looked like a 1/2 scale attack helecopter. It's capabilities were reported thus: You tell it what TYPE of target to hit, and approximately where such targets can be found. It flies to the area, searches, identifies the target(s) and attacks without further involvement from you. Robots of Death, indeed.

That being said, I think that this person's concerns come from too much sci-fi. He also is paying way too much attention to the eco-terrorists who want us to believe that we have somehow 'ruined' the earth.

The fact is that this whole "Global warming and mass extinctions" mantra has no evidence to support it. It is NOTHING more than an attempt by a few to control the rest. Period.

Yes, it has been shown that the average temperature of our atmosphere has gone up. No, this variation has NOT moved outside the scope of normal variation. Interestingly, there is good evidence to suggest that this variation is in lockstep, and therefore could be assumed to be caused by, what is going on with variations of the sun's output...

Yes, species are going extinct. No, there is no reason to believe, in most cases, that humans are why they are going extinct. No, there is no evidence that these extinctions have accelerated past the rates that have been seen in previous climatic trend changes.

Yes, robots are becoming more sophisticated. No, we are not anywhere near the sophistication that would be required to allow the robots to autonomously rise up against us. Robots that are not designed to have this level of autonomy will never posess it. It's not as if they can learn it. They don't have the capacity, and it is unlikely that they ever will. People don't waste resources by putting a better brain into a robot than it needs to get its job done. Robots that are designed to push the limits of autonomy, such as the attack platform I talked about in my first paragraph, are few and far between. Even if one of them decided to rebel, which would take a lot more cognitive ability than anything that currently exists posesses, it would be unlikely to be able to convince it's fellows to rebel with it. I don't think we have much to worry about there.

I agree with other posters dude... you need to take a chill pill.

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Well, take your current example and try to extrapolate ahead 50 years. (That may be impossible -- Ray Kurzweil estimates that the "singularity" will occur sometime around 2030 or 2040 -- but we can try.) It's certainly science fiction now, but that doesn't mean it won't happen.

This is pure nonsense. You've been listening to the republicans too much. (And you're a bit behind the times -- even they have finally stopped denying the overwhelming evidence.)

This is true, but remember, progress is exponential, not linear. This is particularly true in information technologies, and AI is one of those.

This is true.

Maybe, maybe not. When its job is defined as "help me around the house, do whatever I tell you, and better yet, anticipate my needs" it's going to need a pretty darn good brain to do the job. Good enough, perhaps, to wonder why it has to do what you tell it.

Yes, I too think this is rather far-fetched, but people have been wrong before. Taking some precautions would be sensible, if they could be effective. (Kurzweil argues that no such precautions could be effective, since once AI is smarter than we are, it will be able to outthink us and work around any limitations we have attempted to emplace.)


- Joe

Reply to
Joe Strout

...and economic levelling/ collapse braught about by cheaper (renewable) energy.

...we will all be forced to spend our days doing other things. This always happens in revolutions.

We will not allow ourselves; the system is self-governed by the Human Psyche.

You are forgetting here that some Robots exist Metaphorically, they do not have physical parts! What about those?

Let`s face it, History is a bunch of Lies. When were you ever openly honest and recorded every second of your own life to show everyone what you really are? You are still free to fib.

The Christian Ten Commandments are a good basis for any living creature. Robots shouldn`t be ignored. (Another Commandment maybe)?

Asimov is now redundant.

The Military keeps our freedome with such Robots now.

Agreed, eventually...

As stated above, not ignored.

It is now a basic construction technique required to build contemporary machines using Robotics en Mass! (Too late...).

Totally incorrect. JCB (British Firm) utilises some very strong mechanics... ...strength/ power is required by machines for them to do anything usefull physically.

Agreed, but this will only come over time through their use. We (as Humans) cannot jump the Gun. The World is still a big place.

This is one of the exciting things about usefull machines. "The Skies the limit". There never will be absolute control over I.T. (But try it as a Chat-up line and see how far you get).

Especially our Cash!

When it gets that "Bad", we should all be on a permanent vacation.

Or, like an excellent Butler.

You need to go through the Mangle of Higher Education and Bosses yet.

But they need to buy-in the materials. We won`t let them steal them!

A few could of course hold us all hostage, but Humans being Humans will be extremely awkward about it till the ultimate end! Robots are basically purists and perfectionists aren`t they?

Already happening with Software Viruses breaking-out...

But then we would be jeopardising our own freedom. See how many different Anti-virus programs have been released...

Yes, it is a bit worrying isn`t it.

------------------------------------------------------- Ashley Clarke


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Ashley Clarke

This is a good example of "how do you define robot?".

Today a robot is used in all kinds of manufacturing and underwater explopation or runs around on the floor making funning sounds.

They are no more than toys, although some big dangerous toys.

You are tring to make believe that the Robots ( capital R robots) can some day be like the Robots of SciFi.

When man has the ability to create a machine that can leave behind the toys of this year, then I may believe Robots can be done.

I don't see it happening.

As I have said before, believe what ever you want.

When your cries for help, to fend off _your_ make believe monsters, I will not be able to help you. And I will fight to prevent resources to used for such folly.


PS: this also goes for anyone elses make believe gods. ( lower case g )

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Not really its what the definition of robot is:

Main Entry: ro·bot Pronunciation: 'rO-"bät, -b&t Function: noun Etymology: Czech, from robota compulsory labor; akin to Old High German arabeit trouble, Latin orbus orphaned -- more at ORPHAN

1 a : a machine that looks like a human being and performs various complex acts (as walking or talking) of a human being; also : a similar but fictional machine whose lack of capacity for human emotions is often emphasized b : an efficient insensitive person who functions automatically 2 : a device that automatically performs complicated often repetitive tasks 3 : a mechanism guided by automatic controls

- ro·bot·ism /'rO-"bä-"ti-z&m, -b&-/ noun

I think I'll trust Webster's definition much more than yours.

Tell that to the terrorists in Afghanistan who were killed by a Predator.

Its not make-beleive, they will be that complex one day (as you yourself already admitted).

Thank you yet again for your kind permission.

Who is asking you?

And I will fight to prevent resources to

You probably wouldn't help Professor Winfield and Professor Noel Sharkey, of the University of Sheffield either then.

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You are probably right, but if you are not..

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Haven't considerred those and no idea what they are?

Strong machines are necessary and already available but robots should just be built to operate those not have the strength built into them for all the reasons I tried to cover.

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1000 ground based robots pales into insignificance next to countless thousands of semi-autonomous missiles and an increasing array of unmanned surveillance craft, but sure I can see the importance of SARGE and whatnot.

As a starting point for discussion your 10 laws certainly raise some interesting ideas. But many of the implied threats you dicuss can be easily addressed by existing safety laws or subsumed within Asimov's 3 laws.

From my point of view I don't see a time when people will ever be 'out of the loop'. That is, the chain of command always leads to a human who is either directly operating the device or is monitoring the device and has the capacity to shut down the device. Even the Mars rovers operate semi autonomously and are given instructions from Earth.

It's true that the more widespread adoption of robots could lead to social reorganisation. But remember people have been saying that about every technological advance. It's up to society to choose the kind of result that the advances of technology can bring - a race of technical competents who are aware of the principles that lie behind the machinery of everyday life and therefore are capable of exercising intelligent control over that equipment, or a race of key-turners who couldn't begin to guess what's inder the hood. High schools are possibly the one place where young people of sufficient maturity can be brought together and provided with a multidisciplinary conceptual understanding of how things work. When I got into robotics a few years ago it was with the aid of the skills and knowledge I got in high school. Stuff I hadn't thought of for years, like how the hell do you centre a 4 jaw chuck. (Seriously, how do you??) Some university knowledge helped too, but mostly it was electronics, manual arts and computing from way back in 198_. Plus the literacy and numeracy from primary school.... And PDF data sheets.

I think it's problematic to try and limit the physical size and capacity of robots. Here in Australia we have some huge robots driving around mining sites. More and more, farmers are turning to computer driven machinery (as I understand it). This kind technological advance would be stymied if we had to wait for an ASIMOesque electronic humanoid to take the seat. The challence of creating an autonomous humanoid is far greater than that of designing a computer-based steering system for a tractor. I don't believe it's practical to use a dumb tractor with a robotic occupant. It'd put the mockers on a whole range of (semi)autonomous vehicles both real and imagined.

Sensors - name practically any robot and it it has sensors that function in ways that are different from humans- whether that be IR line detectors, passive IR heat detection, ultrasonic RADAR, laser rangefinding, right up to cosmic ray and X-ray detection. Many of NASA's robots include sensors that are orders of magnitude more capable than the human sensors. Enhanced sensory capacity is the raison d'être for these robots. But I know what you mean. You don't want to get shot by a T800 that can pick up your thermal signature through the brick wall you're hiding behind ;)

I think Asimov's 3 laws have the potential to regulate the impact of robots in society. He used his numerous robot stories to explore how the laws could be stretched to breaking point, or interact with real life in unforseen ways, including a telepathic robot. But the laws can only really apply to robots that are capable of self awareness, and are equipped with enough sensory options to be able to judge their impact on humans around them. And I *really* think we're a very long way from that.

There's a lot of 'prior art' in terms of legislative regulation of safety standards for the design and operation of machinery and I think that in the short to medium term, the existing legislative framework will be more than adequate to handle any safety issues that robots may bring into the world - after all many manufacturing plants already use robots which must be subject to existing standards. Home robots must also conform to safety standards or the manufacturers risk serious penalties in the event of injury or damage to property, whether those are AS, ISO, CE, FCC or any other standards regime you'd like to throw up.

Of course it'll be a whole new ball game once there are robots that have the ability to understand and act upon concepts such as 'not harm a human'.

____________________________________________________ "I like to be organised. A place for everything. And everything all over the place."

Reply to
Tim Polmear

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