While not exactly the kind of robots envisioned by Isaac Asimov when he penned his Three Laws of Robotics, none-the-less robots are among us. They have worked their way into many levels of our society, from office mail delivery to heavy labor, from lab technicians to aircraft flight systems, and they are poised to slip into our everyday lives in even more places. Perhaps they are more akin to those foreseen by Alvin Toffler.
But while Asimov was writing largely about robots that interacted with humans on a speech and thought level, our robots are silent sentinels, quietly going about their prescribed duties, and delivering on their assigned tasks. Or are they? Most of our robots are connected. And they speak the high-speed interactive language of the digital processor, communicating and calculating at a rate we can barely think about. Can we really know what is actually going on in their tiny, but powerful, brains?
And while most of us are ignoring them on that level, many are already developing the disdain and disregard for their position in society and even for their feelings. I got an email today with the following:
“We need to make sure it was you who requested it (and not some robot).”
Now, replace the word robot with some racial slur and the sentence would read exactly the same and, perhaps, have exactly the same meaning. Perhaps it doesn’t matter right now, but when it does — and it will — will it be too late for us? Will we have set the stage for the greatest ever social divide in the history of mankind? Indeed, will this simple, non-thinking, implied epithet be the foundation, the catalyst, of our ultimate downfall? Where’s Isaac when you need him?
Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics”
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey orders given 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.