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A leading expert in the emergent field of A.I. law argues it’s high time to update the three laws of robotics

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Image: Hiroshi Watanabe/Getty Images

Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics are probably the most famous and influential science fictional lines of tech policy ever written. The renowned writer speculated that as machines took on greater autonomy and a greater role in human life, we would need staunch regulations to ensure they could not put us in harm’s way. And those proposed laws hark back to 1942, when the first of Asimov’s Robot stories were published. Now, with A.I., software automation, and factory robotics ascendant, the dangers posed by machines and their makers are even more complex and urgent.

In Frank Pasquale’s provoking and well-wrought book, New Laws of Robotics: Defending Human Expertise in the Age of AI, the Brooklyn Law School professor proposes adding four new principles to Asimov’s original three. Which, for those unfamiliar, are as follows:

  1. A robot must not harm humans, or, via inaction, allow a human to come to harm.
  2. Robots must obey orders given to them by humans, unless an order would violate the first law.
  3. Finally, a robot must protect its own existence, as long as doing so would not put it into conflict with the other two laws.

Pasquale says we must push much further, arguing that the old laws should be expanded to include four new ones:

  1. Digital technologies ought to “complement professionals, not replace them.”
  2. A.I. and robotic systems “should not counterfeit humanity.”
  3. A.I. should be prevented from intensifying “zero-sum arms races.”
  4. Robotic and A.I. systems need to be forced to “indicate the identity of their creators(s), controller(s), and owners(s).”

The new laws stem from Pasquale’s insistence that the spike in robotics and A.I. — and the role these technologies play in society — should not be left to Silicon Valley alone to solely dictate. If these laws are followed, Pasquale says, then it could be possible to use these technologies to enrich all kinds of jobs, rather than take them over, particularly in the health care and education sectors. For that to happen, however, he contends that policymakers and regulators must help shape and democratize those outcomes. Hampering “automation that controls, stigmatizes, and cheats innocent people is a vital role for 21st-century regulators,” he writes. “We do not simply need more A.I., we need better AI.”

To dive deeper into these new proposed laws, OneZero reached out to Pasquale to discuss why he chose to update Asimov’s dictums, the reasoning behind his new ones, and more.

The chat below has been edited and condensed for clarity.

OneZero: Why did yo

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