Science fiction author Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics are a trimmed down version of The Ten Commandments for androids. Simple, direct and to the point, Asimov declared, “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.”
Asimov’s rules have inspired short stories, video games, music and cartoons. Roland Charles Wagner’s short story gave them an erotic spin in Three Laws of Robotic Sexuality, while the game Portal 2 sees all military androids sharing one copy of the laws of robotics.
In the tune Robot, space rockers Hawkwind sang, “You’d hold the whole world in your metal claws / If it wasn’t for the Three Laws.”
And in the Mega Man series by Archie Comics, automatons are almost defeated by an anti-robotic terrorist group because they must abide by the three laws.
This weekend, Baymax, the lovable inflatable robot at the heart of Big Hero Six, abides by the laws. “Hello,” he says. “I am Baymax, your personal health-care companion.”
The roly-poly inflatable bot can almost instantly diagnose and treat a variety of diseases but even when he is transformed into a crime-fighting warrior, he still plays by the rules.
Asimov’s stories have been turned into films like I, Robot and Bicentennial Man, where the robots follow the dictums. But not all movies stay true to the rules.
In Alien, the Hyperdyne Systems 120-A/2 cyborg character Bishop (Ian Holm) says, “It is impossible for me to harm, or, by omission of action, allow to be harmed, a human being,” but later tries to kill Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) by choking her with a rolled up porno magazine.
The 1951 classic The Day the Earth Stood Still has both good and evil robots. When alien android Klaatu’s message of friendship to earthlings is met with a bullet from a sniper, his eight-foot metal robotic assistant Gort lets loose with a disintegration death ray.
Finally, worse than Blade Runner’s killer android Roy (Rutger Hauer) or the robot gunslinger from Westworld, is Maximilian, the silent-but-deadly android from The Black Hole.
Not only does he wordlessly do the bidding of the evil Dr. Hans Reinhardt (Maximilian Schell), the blood-red bot later merges with his human creator to lord over the fire and brimstone of hell. Lawgiver Asimov surely would not approve.