The Three Laws of Robotics in Popular Culture - Print Media

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  • 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":
  1. A Robot may not immerse a human being or, through lack of flotation, allow a human to come to harm.
  2. A Robot must obey all commands and steering input given by its human owner, except where such input would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A Robot must preserve its own flotation as long as such preservation does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
  • 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.
  • 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 Alastair Reynolds's novel Century Rain, robots may or may not follow Asimov's rules. Those that are programmed to follow said rules are said to be "Asimov Compliant". Depending on their function, non-compliant robots are sometimes marked with a crossed-out A to warn humans that they are "most certainly not Asimov-compliant".
  • 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:
  1. Thou shalt protect the robot with all thy might and all thy heart and all thy soul.
  2. Thou shalt hold the interests of US Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc. holy provided it interfereth not with the First Law.
  3. Thou shalt give passing consideration to a human being provided it interfereth not with the First and Second Laws.
  • In the John Barnes novel, A Million Open Doors, a scene refers to an artificial intelligence unit being "Asimoved" indicating that the AI unit refused to aid a human's attempt to break the law (in this case an illegal data penetration of another computer).
  • Charles Stross's novel Saturn's Children features an android society based on the Three Laws of Robotics struggling to survive after an incident kills off all human life. The Three Laws are listed at the front of the novel.
  • The short story "Midnight in the Heart of Midlothian" published as part of Halo Evolutions features an AI called Mo Ye that is explicitly shown to be bound by Azimov's Laws of Robotics. As such, she was unable to self-destruct to prevent the enemy from capturing the ship due to the fact that a living human was on board. After the human's death at the hands of the aliens, she was able to self-destruct and prevent the aliens from discovering the location of Earth.
  • Jack Williamson wrote a short story entitled "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.

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