Among my favorite freaks (I say this with all admiration and respect) is Isaac Asimov.
He left us in 1992 at age 72, but had he lived he would have turned 100 on Jan. 2. In his 1942 short story “Runaround,” he proposed the Three Laws of Robotics:
n A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
n A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
n A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
A bunch of nerds (again, I say this with love, and it takes one to know one) with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) took Asimov’s laws a step further in 2010:
n Robots should not be designed as weapons, except for national security reasons.
n Robots should be designed and operated to comply with existing law, including privacy.
n Robots are products: as with other products, they should be designed to be safe and secure.
n Robots are manufactured artefacts: the illusion of emotions and intent should not be used to exploit vulnerable users.
n It should be possible to find out who is responsible for any robot.
Naturally, in this new year and time of resolutions —when I usually fall back on my 17-years-and-counting resolution of “Do better” — I’m thinking about robots. Specifically, about how I need a robot to keep me on track and help make some resolutions happen, and how Asimov and the EPSRC didn’t go quite far enough.
Thus, I present Rachel’s Rules of Robotics and Resolutioneering:
n Robots should stop me from making the filling for a peanut butter pie but not the crust, keeping it in a bowl like pudding and telling myself that it is, essentially, pudding and thus, you know, healthy-ish. With all that protein and such. (Email me for the recipe; I’ll have the robot send it to you.)
n Robots should talk me out of being influenced by things like Good Housekeeping’s 45 Achievable New Year’s Resolutions for Healthier and Happier Living, including No. 19: Try hydrotherapy. As I understand it, this involves 10 minutes in a sauna followed by 30 seconds in 60-degree water, which a spa director named Kristi Dickinson claims flushes out lactic acid. Robots need to remind me to wait for the meta-analysis and then we’ll talk, Kristi Dickinson.
n Robots also need to consistently remind me that Good Housekeeping has gone seriously downhill ever since it stopped running “My Problem and How I Solved It,” which was rivaled in quality only by Ladies’ Home Journal’s “Can This Marriage Be Saved?”
n Robots should speak to me in Spanish, because obviously I resolve to improve my near-nonexistent Spanish, until I start crying, and then they should stop. In fact, they should magically sense when I’m on the verge of tears and am heading for their fuse box with a Phillips head.
n Robots must confiscate my iPad when I’m lying in bed and convincing myself that I would cook more if I had better knives.
n Robots can go ahead and exploit my vulnerable emotions as long as they’re telling me I look pretty and that these jeans have always been this tight.
n Robots don’t need to be all that worried about privacy — not if they have sophisticated robotic ways of finding out whatever happened to that girl (email me and I’ll have the robot tell you her name, which I HAVEN’T FORGOTTEN) who turned to me in Mrs. Baker’s seventh-grade language arts class at Mount Garfield Middle School and asked me if I’m a boy or a girl (what can I say, I went through a significant spud phase in middle school). I expect the robot to find out she’s in prison.
n Robots must recognize the subtle nuances of connotation in “inaction” and “harm.” Which is to say, I’m not harming anyone if I spend the majority of a day inert on the couch and watching subtitled Indian soap operas on Netflix, and I’d be SUPER mad if it acted to make me get up.
n But by the same token, robots also must realize that we’re a team! We’re going to do better together! All for one and one for all! No need to go all HAL on me, right? Ha ha, right??
I might need another robot to help me out here.
Rachel Sauer is at firstname.lastname@example.org and would love to hear your rules of robotics and resolutioneering.