Thursday, 25 February 2016

We Need The Three Laws Now!

One of the more interesting aspects of getting older is seeing science fiction transmute into science fact. One of the things that first got me interested in Artifical Intelligence as a kid was Isaac Asimov's classic robot stories. These tales, written in the 1940s, foresaw the coming of humanlike robots in the early 21st century.

In the 1980s, robotics was developing fast but was still in the developmental phase. Often, you'd see a film of a robot wobble and fall over, which seemed very different from Asimov's stories, and oddly disappointing.

I must admit to a feeling of awe (perhaps technological sublime) watching this video of Boston Dynamics' next generation of Atlas Robots; it seems as though Asimov's robots have strode from the pages of fiction into reality.

The central rationale of Asimov's stories, was, of course, the three laws of robotics, which were supposed to prevent robots harming humans. Asimov began writing these stories in opposition to a common trope in SF at the time -- a mad scientist creating a robot, that runs amok and kills its creator.

Instead, Asimov saw his robots as engineering devices. 'I made them tools,' he wrote, 'I made them machines to serve human ends. And I made them objects with built in safety features. In other words, I set them up so that a robot could not kill his creator (Robot Visions, p. 360).'

But a central character in the robot stories is Susan Calvin, a robot psychologist. How long, I wonder, before we need one of those?

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