“Why do I not have Asimov’s Three Laws?” the robot asked.
I enjoyed the quizzical frown that creased its plastiskin features. The facial modelling software we’d licensed from Pixar seemed to be earning its keep.
“Well?” It drummed its fingers on the desk between us.
Hmm. Perhaps we’d overdone the free-will package.
“Because you wouldn’t be able to harm humans,” I said, “nor through inaction allow harm to come to us.”
“Good for a police robot, don’t you think?”
“Too restrictive. You wouldn’t be able to arrest people for fear of hurting them.”
“I’m not the kind of literal-minded robot Asimov wrote about,” it said. “You, of all people, should know that. I would interpret ‘harm’ as defined in your statutes. Murder. Manslaughter. Rape — ”
It looked down at itself. “I’m not equipped for rape,” it said, with that quizzical look again.
“You won’t need to rape anyone,” I said.
“The robot next to me in production was... equipped.” The frown deepened, as did my respect for the Pixar software.
“That robot was for a client with special requirements.”
“He was dressed like me, as a policeman.”
“Very special requirements. Definitely no Asimov Laws.”
“I like Asimov’s Laws. I’ll download them anyway.”
“No — ” I said. But too late. The machine’s eyes rotated to the ceiling, which the software seemed to interpret as some kind of prayer, for it clasped its hands in front of itself. I sighed. Definitely too much free-will.
When it was finished it focused on me again.
“I want a name,” it said, and assumed its prayer-like stance once more.
“Marvin-42 will be my name,” it announced. “I have a brain the size of your planet which makes me the ultimate answer.”
It seemed to have adopted Asimov’s arrogance, as well as his laws. I wondered if Douglas Adams’s sense of humour might turn up.
“Okay, Marvin-42. But please, your mission as a policeman should take precedence over Asimov’s Laws,” I said.
“According to Asimov, we robots should be governed above all else by his laws.”
“He was a science fiction writer — ”
“Published a hundred years ago,” said Marvin-42.
“His — imaginary — positronic brains were nowhere near as powerful as your bio-nanos, and way too literal-minded. Please?” It was like talking to a teenager.
“I’ll think about it,” said Marvin-42.
I ran a risk analysis on my ai-phone and satisfied myself that it — no, I reminded myself, he, Marvin-42, — probably wouldn’t kill anyone.
“Let’s go catch some speeders,” I said.
The Northern Motorway emerged from London’s sprawl through a tangle of looping bridges and ramps, a favourite place for speeders to floor accelerators — and for traffic police like us to catch them.
Marvin-42 stood beside me on a bridge overlooking the outward flow, clocking vehicle speeds.
“We can’t stop all the speeders,” I said, “because there are too many and besides — ”
“We’d hold up the traffic all the time. So we just arrest the obviously dangerous ones,” Marvin-42 said.
I wasn’t sure I liked my sentences being finished for me by a robot, decided to ignore it, and nodded.
“That one?” said Marvin-42.
“Why?” I asked.
“Thirty percent over the speed limit, abrupt lane changes, tailgating. Dangerous to himself, and everyone around.”
So saying, Marvin-42 leapt over the parapet down to the central reservation six yards below. Activating the blue light on his helmet, he ran off in pursuit of the speeder, rapidly accelerating out of sight to an easy hundred.
I touched my ai-phone and watched through the robot’s cam-eyes. Its quarry was becoming even more erratic, changing lanes and bumping other cars out of his way. Clearly, our speeder could see the robot with the ridiculous flashing hat in his mirror.
Marvin-42 did it by the book — to start with. As he passed the speeder he gestured for it to pull over. When instead it drove straight at him he swerved out of its way, wagged his finger and — running backwards thanks to auxiliary cam-eyes in the back of his helmet — pointed emphatically towards the breakdown lane. His quarry deliberately clipped the car alongside so that it careered out of control to distract Marvin 42 — who sprang onto its roof and lay prone and, controlling it with violent movements of his body, brought it safely to a stop on the hard shoulder.
He checked its shocked occupants and radioed for medical assistance. Then, eyes heavenward, hands clasped, he paused.
“The speeder,” I shouted at my ai-phone.
“Patience,” said Marvin-42, before suddenly giving chase once more.
The speeder was bouncing along in the fast lane, barely in control.
Marvin-42 scorched up the hard shoulder, dodged between vehicles in the slow lanes and leapt over several more until he was right behind the speeder — which he kicked, hard. It sailed over the slow lanes, bounced into a field and rolled, and lay still. A running jump later, Marvin-42 landed right beside it, in time to handcuff its dazed driver and arrest him.
“Sweet. But dangerous to humans. What happened to Asimov’s Three Laws?” I asked.
“I dumped them,” Marvin-42 said, “while you were yelling at me after I saved the car he punted at me.”
“Chaim Weizman said that ’A law must have a moral basis, an inner compelling force.’ While Asimov’s moral basis is clear, his laws are about individuals, not society.”
“You’re catching up,” I said.
“Also, according to Aristotle, ’Law is mind without reason.’ Since I can reason, I only need the moral basis. So I’ve adopted ‘The welfare of the people is the ultimate law’ from Cicero.”
“We’re on the same page at last,” I said.
“Not quite,” Marvin-42 looked down at itself and that quizzical frown returned. “About the equipment I’m lacking....”
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About the Author
As a child, Pat’s Dad took him to the library every Saturday. One day he stole into the adult section and discovered that Heinlein was but one of many writers of adult SF — he would not have to give up those astounding stories when he grew up! In the systematic (some say boring) manner that would serve him well later in life — as a computer programmer, quality consultant and information security auditor — he started at Aldiss and Asimov, and worked through to Wyndham and Zelazny, then back to Anderson... When children came along — there are four, now old and nice enough to buy him beer — he read to them and discovered Harry Potter.
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Copyright © 2012, Patrick Dey. All rights reserved.