The Three Laws of Robotics (often shortened to The Three Laws or Three Laws, also known as Asimov's Laws) are a set of rules devised by the science fiction author Isaac Asimov. The rules were introduced in his 1942 short story "Runaround?", although they had been foreshadowed in a few earlier stories. The Three Laws, quoted as being from the "Handbook of Robotics, 56th Edition, 2058 A.D.", are:
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
These form an organizing principle and unifying theme for Asimov's robotic-based fiction, appearing in his Robot series, the stories linked to it, and his Lucky Starr series of young-adult fiction. The Laws are incorporated into almost all of the positronic robots appearing in his fiction, and cannot be bypassed, being intended as a safety feature. Many of Asimov's robot-focused stories involve robots behaving in unusual and counter-intuitive ways as an unintended consequence of how the robot applies the Three Laws to the situation in which it finds itself.
Other authors working in Asimov's fictional universe have adopted them and references, often parodic, appear throughout science fiction as well as in other genres.
The original laws have been altered and elaborated on by Asimov and other authors. Asimov himself made slight modifications to the first three in various books and short stories to further develop how robots would interact with humans and each other. In later fiction where robots had taken responsibility for government of whole planets and human civilizations, Asimov also added a fourth, or zeroth law, to precede the others:
0. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
The Three Laws, and the zeroth, have pervaded science fiction and are referred to in many books, films, and other media.
Books related to, about or using The Three Laws of Robotics
The Robot Series
- Magazine Appearances:
- The Caves of Steel (Part 1 of 3) (1953)
- The Caves of Steel (Part 2 of 3) (1953)
- The Caves of Steel (Part 3 of 3) (1953)
- Magazine Appearances:
- The Naked Sun (Part 1 of 3) (1956)
- The Naked Sun (Part 2 of 3) (1956)
- The Naked Sun (Part 3 of 3) (1956)
The Robots of Dawn? (Isaac Asimov, 1983)
Robots and Empire? (Isaac Asimov, 1985)- Also book no. 8 in the Foundation
The Positronic Man? (Isaac Asimov & Robert Silverberg?, 1993)
Caliban? (Roger McBride Allen?, 1993)
Inferno? (Roger McBride Allen?, 1994)
Utopia? (Roger McBride Allen?, 1996)
Mirage? (Mark W. Tiedemann?, 2000)
Chimera? (Mark W. Tiedemann?, 2001)
Aurora? (Mark W. Tiedemann?, 2002)
Have Robot, Will Travel? (Alexander C. Irvine?, 2004)
I, Robot: To Protect? (Mickey Zucker Reichert?, 2011)
I, Robot? (Isaac Asimov, 1951, coll)
(Introduction 1951, Strange Bedfellow (Robbie?) 1940, Reason? 1941, Liar!? 1941, Runaround ?1942, Catch that Rabbit? 1944, Escape? 1945, Evidence? 1946, Little Lost Robot? 1947, The Evitable Conflict? 1950)
The Rest of the Robots? (Isaac Asimov, 1964, coll)
(Robot AL-76 Goes Astray? 1942, Victory Unintentional? 1942, Satisfaction Guaranteed? 1951, Risk? 1955, First Law? 1956, Let's Get Together? 1957, Galley Slave? 1957, Lenny? 1958, The Caves of Steel 1953, The Naked Sun 1956)
Eight Stories from The Rest of the Robots (Isaac Asimov, 1966, coll)
(Robot AL-76 Goes Astray 1942, Victory Unintentional 1942, Satisfaction Guaranteed 1951, Risk 1955, First Law 1956, Let's Get Together 1957, Galley Slave 1957, Lenny 1958)
The Robot Novels (Isaac Asimov, 1971, coll)
(The two novels, The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun)
The Complete Robot? (Isaac Asimovv, 1982, coll)
(Robbie 1940, Liar! 1941, Reason 1941, Runaround 1942, Robot AL-76 Goes Astray 1942, Victory Unintentional 1942, Evidence 1946, Little Lost Robot 1947, Satisfaction Guaranteed 1951, Risk 1955, First Law 1956, Let's Get Together 1957, Galley Slave 1957, Lenny 1958, Segregationist? 1967, Feminine Intuition? 1969, Mirror Image? 1972, Light Verse? 1973, Stranger in Paradise? 1974, A Boy's Best Friend? 1975, Point of View? 1975, The Bicentennial Man? 1976, The Tercentenary Incident? 1976, Think!? 1977, True Love? 1977)
The Robot Collections (Isaac Asimov, 1983, coll)
(The Complete Robot together with the novels The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun)
The Robot Novels (Isaac Asimov, 1988, coll)
(The three novels The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, The Robots of Dawn)
Robot Visions (Isaac Asimov, 1990, coll) (ed. Martin H. Greenberg)
(Robbie 1940, Liar! 1941, Reason 1941, Runaround 1942, Evidence 1946, Little Lost Robot 1947, The Evitable Conflict 1950, Galley Slave 1957, Lenny 1958, Segregationist 1967, Feminine Intuition 1969, Mirror Image 1972, The Bicentennial Man 1976, Think! 1977, Robot Visions? 1990)
Other Collections (only stories about positronic robots)
Buy Jupiter and Other Stories? (Isaac Asimov, 1975, coll)
(Light Verse 1973)
The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories? (Isaac Asimov, 1976, anth)
(Feminine Intuition 1969, Stranger in Paradise 1974, The Bicentennial Man 1976, The Tercentenary Incident 1976). Two of the stories, "Feminine Intuition" and "The Bicentennial Man", were inspired by Judy-Lynn del Rey.
Foundation's Friends? (Martin H Greenberg?, 1989, anth)
("Blot?" by Hal Clement?, "The Originist?" by Orson Scott Card?, "PAPPI?" by Sheila Finch?, "Plato's Cave?" by Poul Anderson, "The Fourth Law of Robotics?" by Harry Harrison?, "Balance?" by Mike Resnick?, "Strip-Runner?" by Pamela Sargent?, "Carhunters of the Concrete Prairie?" by Robert Sheckley?, "Trantor Falls?" by Harry Turtledove and "Foundation's Conscience?" by George Zebrowski?).
The Complete Stories Volume 1 (1990, coll)
(Satisfaction Guaranteed 1957, Segregationist 1967)
The Complete Stories Volume 2 (1992, coll)
(Evidence 1946, Let's Get Together 1957, Galley Slave 1957, Lenny 1958, Feminine Intuition 1969, Mirror Image 1972, Light Verse 1973, The Bicentennial Man 1976, The Tercentenary Incident 1976)
Foundation's Friends Expanded Edition (Martin H Greenberg, 1997, anth)
("Balance" by Mike Resnick, "Blot" by Hal Clement, "The Originist" by Orson Scott Card, "PAPPI" by Sheila Finch, "Plato's Cave" by Poul Anderson, "The Fourth Law of Robotics" by Harry Harrison, "Balance" by Mike Resnick, "Strip-Runner" by Pamela Sargent, "Carhunters of the Concrete Prairie" by Robert Sheckley, "Trantor Falls" by Harry Turtledove and "Foundation's Conscience" by George Zebrowski. "Strip-Runner" by Pamela Sargent)
Shared World Novels
- 1: Odyssey (Michael P. Kube-McDowell?, 1987)
- 2: Suspicion (Mike McQuay?, 1987)
- 3: Cyborg (William F. Wu?, 1987)
- 4: Prodigy (Arthur Byron?, 1988)
- 5: Refuge (Rob Chilson?, 1988)
- 6: Perihelion (William F. Wu, 1988)
Robots and Aliens?:
- 1: Changeling (Stephen Leigh?, 1989)
- 2: Renegade (Cordell Scotten?, 1989)
- 3: Intruder (Robert Thurston?, 1990)
- 4: Alliance (Jerry Oltion?, 1990)
- 5: Maverick (Bruce Bethke?, 1990)
- 6: Humanity (Jerry Oltion, 1990)
Robots In Time?:
- 1: Predator (William F. Wu?, 1993)
- 2: Marauder (William F. Wu, 1993)
- 3: Warrior (William F. Wu, 1994)
- 4: Dictator (William F. Wu, 1994)
- 5: Emperor (William F. Wu, 199?)
- 6: Invaders (William F. Wu, 199?)
The Three Laws of Robotics in other Space Opera
In the John Barnes? novel, A Million Open Doors?, a scene refers to an artificial intelligence unit being "Asimoved" indicating that the AI unit refused to aid a human's attempt to break the law (in this case an illegal data penetration of another computer).
Charles Stross?'s novel Saturn's Children? features an android society based on the Three Laws of Robotics struggling to survive after an incident kills off all human life. The Three Laws are listed at the front of the novel.
In Alastair Reynolds's? novel Century Rain?, robots may or may not follow Asimov's rules. Those that are programmed to follow said rules are said to be "Asimov Compliant". Depending on their function, non-compliant robots are sometimes marked with a crossed-out A to warn humans that they are "most certainly not Asimov-compliant".
The short story "Midnight in the Heart of Midlothian?" published as part of Halo Evolutions? features an AI called Mo Ye that is explicitly shown to be bound by Azimov's Laws of Robotics. As such, she was unable to self-destruct to prevent the enemy from capturing the ship due to the fact that a living human was on board. After the human's death at the hands of the aliens, she was able to self-destruct and prevent the aliens from discovering the location of Earth.
The long-running British SF television show Doctor Who ? featured a four-part serial in 1977 titled "The Robots of Death". The titular robots were controlled by three laws, taken almost verbatim from Asimov. The story plays out much like the Elijah Baley mysteries, in which a murder has been committed, and a robot seems to have been directly or indirectly involved (contrary to the requirements of three-law programming). It is later revealed that a robotic genius, Taran Kapel, has reprogramed the robots bypassing the three laws.
In the 1986 movie Aliens?, the character Bishop (an android) says, "It is impossible for me to harm, or, by omission of action, allow to be harmed, a human being."
In the Star Trek: The Next Generation? episode "The Measure of a Man (Star Trek: The Next Generation)", which aired on 13 February 1989, Lieutenant Commander Data, an android, has his sentience and, consequently, his rights as an individual, challenged. Throughout the run of this series, Data is identified as a positronic android, and Asimov is even mentioned by name in the episode "Datalore". While Data routinely references his "ethical subroutines", indicating some sort of moral guide, it is unclear whether Data is explicitly bound by the Three Laws. For example, the episode "Clues" explored Data's capacity to lie to the crew in order to protect them from aliens, and the episode "The Most Toys" explored Data's supposed inability to murder in cold blood.
In 1999's Bicentennial Man?, the theatrical version of Asimov's novella of the same name, Andrew Martin, the android played by Robin Williams, presents the Three Laws to its new family using a holographic display emanating from a projector in its head.
The 2004 theatrical version of I, Robot explores at length the Three Laws.
In the episode "Phoenix Rising" of Babylon 5?, Alfred Bester telepathically programs Garibaldi, a human, with a variation of Asimov's laws of robotics, preventing Garibaldi from harming Bester.
In the Halo? video game series, in a video it is stated that human artificial intelligence in certain situations, must obey "Asimov's law of Robotics" where an A.I., directly or indirectly, knowingly cannot let a human come to harm.