Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The three laws

Isaac Asimov's I, Robot has in it a set of three laws of robotics:

  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 any orders given to 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 Law.
The three laws above are supposed to be self-consistent and self-contained, much as mathematical axioms are supposedly are.

I heard on the news today a discussion on the new Canadian Citizenship Guide, and it got me thinking of many things including the discourse in Quebec on "reasonable accommodation" and the three laws of robotics.

I realize what a mine-field this type of discussion really is where being reasonable is a most rare commodity. But, unfortunately, a necessary thing to do if we are to advance as a mature society. I think this being the case, we have to try and clarify and distinguish each case as to whether the issues are constitutional, political, ideological (religious), legal or personal in order to try and keep our heads above the water and not get mired down as the Americans and Quebec have, or are in danger of allowing a highly vocal minority take the reins.

Some of the issues, as thorny and ornery as they can become and be, are actually legal in nature and not really up for discussion. Violence against women in whatever form or degree, for eg, is a violation against the Canadian Criminal Code; abuse of human rights is both a constitutional and criminal offence, which in theory Canada does not tolerate and will prosecute.

With the other issues that touch upon religion or belief, we must be very careful to try and avoid even the possibility of a public "discussion" on "radicalization" of this and that type as America is prone to repeating as a nightmarish self-fulfilling prophesy, three hundred years ago it was the witches, in the fifties it was the commies, and now it's radicalized muslims, and tomorrow, what?

I think we need some kind of three laws for a peacable society:
  1. A human being may not injure another human being or, through inaction or omission, allow a fellow human being to come to harm.
  2. A human being must use informed reason to distinguish any orders given to him/her by other human beings to determine whether such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A human being must protect her/his own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

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