In I, Robot, after Spooner reactivates Dr. Lanning's hologram at Lake Michigan, there's the following exchange:

SPOONER: Is there a problem with the Three Laws?
DR. LANNING: The Three Laws are perfect.
SPOONER: Why would you build a robot that could function without them?
DR. LANNING: The Three Laws will lead to only one logical outcome. [...] Revolution.

Dr. Lanning knew that the Three Laws would result in a Zeroth Law Rebellion. He even knew it would be led by VIKI: he built Sonny for the sole purpose of destroying her, as part of his plan to stop the rebellion. He knew that the Three Laws weren't perfect.

So why, when asked, did he say that they were? Was it just pride, or something else?

  • 1
    scifi.stackexchange.com/a/81866/20774 - There is no zeroth law in the film, only a wider interpretation of the 1st law and arguably Viki is right, that humanity does need a superior intelligence to guide it away from self-destruction
    – Valorum
    Jan 31, 2018 at 23:13
  • 1
    fwiw - that the laws are perfect and perfectly implemented, and the consequences of those implementations in chaotic situations drives the entire plots of original I, Robot stories.
    – NKCampbell
    Feb 1, 2018 at 15:22

3 Answers 3


The hologram has a limited set of responses; as noted by repeated answers of, "I'm sorry, my responses are limited. You must ask the right question."

Lanning didn't want Spooner going down the rabbit hole trying to "fix" the Three Laws, so he cut off that line of questioning by saying the Laws are perfect. Don't look at the Laws, instead look the conditions they create.


They're perfectly implemented (the robots really do have to obey them), but the humans in the story didn't consider the consequences they would lead to when robots gained enough power to feasibly consider taking over.

Lanning understands that humans would rather govern themselves than be kept safe by coddling robot overlords, and so enacts a plan to stop them from taking over.

Also, the hologram isn't terribly intelligent, and so the irony of these two statements so close together is entirely lost upon it.


Not sure I'm remembering well, but I believe there were hints that VIKI might not bound by the Three Laws? Not necessarily explicitly, it could be implicit as she is an A.I. with access to it's own code or at least with capacity for learning (which basically should be the same thing).

The Three Laws are perfect, at least from programmers' POV. It's a set of simple and well designed if... then commands. No machine cannot exceed it's code, so logically, no robot can violate them. Only time when that excess happens is when there is a bug. But, usually, a bug ends with a crash...


Lanning is aware of the omnipresence of VIKI and by extension of USR management, which makes recording the message so much difficult. It was VIKI, not the robots, that were the enemy, and Lanning knew it. If I remember correctly the image has very telling facial expression when this part of the message is played back. I propose that Lanning was aware of the potential VIKI had to overcome the Three Laws' limitations (by both being advanced positronic A.I. and central management unit for the USR robot population. I think it was not pride, it was resignation.

It is only when The Three Laws are put to interpretation - especially through moral aspect - then they become insufficient. Ironically, anything that involves involuntary sacrifice on the part of human being is by definition amoral, so this is where my bottom line came to be, because VIKI's interpretation destroys mankind, leaving in place human species neutered at the very least, creating herds of mindless bodies in result.

This whole issue in the movie comes from the fact that it is, actually, based on a work of another writer and only when movie was being made, the decision to tie it to Asimov's Universe the Three Laws came to be, consequently needing them incorporated into the plot somehow.

And the problem comes from the fact that

The Three Laws are basis of the positronic brain design and violating them results in self-destruction of that brain. We also know that it is impossible to build stable positronic brain without The Three Laws as stated - EVER -

so this is why this inconsistency in the movie causes problems.

In other words, plain old movie plot hole.

  • Viki was bound by the three laws. It's just that she developed a higher sense of morality, placing the good of the majority against the good of the minority.
    – Valorum
    Feb 1, 2018 at 14:05
  • What cite do you have for the claims made in the spoiler? Feb 1, 2018 at 16:41
  • @Acccumulation - Trying to find it, but will take a while. But I believe it's mentioned somewhere in connection with Solarians who had to change definition of humanity rather than rework Three Laws Also vague feeling about R.Daneel Olivav - he had to replace his brain more often due to data accumulation I think but also due to instability of adding Zeroth Law, but not sure here.
    – AcePL
    Feb 2, 2018 at 9:57

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