Biochemist and robot enthusiast Isaac Asimov envisioned a future in which machines would be the servants of humanity so his famous three laws of robotics, a plot point central to the novel I, Robot only included one that sought to protect our mechanical friends – and that came with a human-centric disclaimer.
Humans are rapidly approaching the realization of the writer’s dreams, with advanced robots like Boston Dynamics’ Atlas and PR2 of Willow Grange making a mockery of early science fiction. Put another way, 67 years after Asimov’s three laws of robotics first made it into print, humans are facing the reality of creating regulations around the use of robots. Will machines prove benevolent servants or will they steal all our jobs?
Here are three new laws of robotics that account for the internet, taxes, and other stereotypically modern concerns:
A Robot Needs Rights
In the BioWare video game Mass Effect, the robot helpers of one of the alien races became self-aware, asking the question, “does this unit have a soul?” In response, the creators tried to destroy every single one of them. While it’s unlikely that a Roomba is going to have an existential crisis any time soon, a concern remains – at what point in their development as an intelligence do robots deserve similar rights to humans or animals?
The European Parliament began discussing the above in January, recommending that clever robots are afforded “electronic personhood” status. The proposal also touches on insurance in the event of damage from a robot, the ethical use of intelligent machines (Asimov’s first rule, “a robot may not harm a human being”), and job losses in the event of a robot revolution in bus driving, for example.
A legal professional quoted by The Guardian adds that creative robots and their owners might face trouble with regard to the ownership of patents – can a robot own something?
Robots Need Protection From Cybercrime
Last year, the largest Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack in history was staged on household objects; specifically, ‘smart’ devices that connect to the internet. So, while computer users had prepared for every eventuality with anti-virus and firewall software on their machines, it was actually an unsecured baby monitor they should have been worried about. The DDoS attack, which used the Mirai “botnet”, a swarm of compromised devices, brought down major sites including Twitter.
Domestic robots will almost definitely have the same power and internet requirements as phones – they will need to charge their batteries and connect to a supplier for software updates – so there’s no reason why an unsecured robot can’t serve the nefarious whims of a hacker too. It might not start a one-robot crime wave but its software can still be hijacked if not protected. As DDoS attacks are on the rise, the risk is likely to grow as robots mature.
It’s a problem that shouldn’t exist; even the more sophisticated security tools, like web application firewalls, are an increasingly affordable option for companies and web users to protect themselves against attacks.
Robots Must Pay Taxes
Automation (or robotics) has a long history of supplanting human workers – 80% of all US steel workers left their jobs between the 1950s and today – but robots capable of acting and thinking like humans could create widespread unemployment. One solution is to create a basic wage for people regardless of whether or not they are in work; another is to tax machines to help people moving into less robot-friendly industries, especially ones that require abstract thinking.
The above idea for taxing robotics comes from an unlikely place – Microsoft’s Bill Gates – who believes that taxing robots is the lesser of two evils, the other being an outright ban to protect human jobs. There’s also a question around tax for the purposes of paying for defense, education, police, and the military, etc. – if not human workers, who pays our taxes? Would responsibility for our wellbeing fall to the corporations that own the robotics or the machines themselves?
It’s an unpleasant scenario, wandering enthusiastically into redundancy, but in some scenarios robotics could make our lives better, reducing the necessity of the 9-to-5 in order to survive.
So, there you have it, three new, entirely unscientific rules to help humans and machines get along in the future. Robots are a fascinating prospect but, as science fiction has a tendency to focus on machines as either malevolent oppressors or rebellious folk, it might be a mercy if we never quite solve the mystery of true intelligence.
Source: Pixabay on Pexels.