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In the "real world" of the Matrix, do the machines follow Asimov's Three Rules? Were they even programmed with them?

EDIT: I realize that killing people goes against the 1st law, but by keeping people in the Matrix (which the machines view as a symbiosis) rather than simply killing off these "annoying" creatures, I wonder if the killings can be seen as "preserving the greater good" or something along those lines; and thus justify violating the laws.

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    Are you serious? They actively and purposefully kill people. – bitmask Jun 25 '12 at 13:08
  • @bitmask - while the question sounds like "Duh!", it's still fully on topic and not "general reference" despite being somewhat obvious. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jun 25 '12 at 13:45
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    @DVK it shows a complete lack of knowledge of both the matrix and any of the three laws ... – NimChimpsky Jun 25 '12 at 13:46
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    @NimChimpsky - showing a complete lack of knowledge is not a cut off. There are plenty of questions on this site that to a certain level of expertise show a "complete lack of knowledge", but that's not in and out of itself making them off topic or even bad. Moreover, the answer isn't as trivial and cut and dry as it appears at first glance if you look at the second half of my answer – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jun 25 '12 at 13:51
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    @DVK: That's why I didn't VTC or DV, but I know that Tek knows better than to ask such a "Duh!" question. So my comment was more driven by astonishment than anything else. – bitmask Jun 25 '12 at 14:07
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The "Zeroth Law" that Asimov references (protect humanity even at the cost of some individuals) might justify the actions the robots in The Matrix take. They may have decided that being destroyed would result in such a great collapse of civilization that it put humanity at an undue risk of being destroyed. Heck, humans blotted out the sun, there's no way they would be able to grow enough food to survive without the robots.

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    +1, It also explains why humans are kept alive, since the "energy source" explanation doesn't make much sense. They cannot harm humanity, so they keep us alive like pets. – Izkata Jun 25 '12 at 22:45
  • Real Machines index from zero. – n611x007 Jun 26 '12 at 18:24
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In the film The Animatrix, there is a short film called The Second Renaissance part I which goes into some detail about the rise of the machines and the end of man.

The relationship between humans and machines changes in the year 2090, when a domestic android is threatened by its owner. The android, named B1-66ER in what appears to be a reference to the character Bigger Thomas from the novel Native Son, then kills the owner, his pets, and a mechanic instructed to deactivate the robot. This murder is the first incident of an artificially intelligent machine killing a human. B1-66ER is arrested and put on trial, but justifies the crime as self-defense, stating that it "simply did not want to die".

The above would imply that first, many machines were sentient, and/or were free thinking machines. Second, because of the wording and actions of the android it could be said that this machine knew the difference from activation and deactivation and in this case specifically used the word's 'did not want to die'.

If B1-66ER had bound by the 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 the 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 Laws

B1-66ER could have been said have had a defect in it's programming by failing to obey law 3 which directly conflicted with law 1. But as the the short film goes on to say:

B1-66ER loses the court case and is destroyed. Across the industrialized world, mass civil disturbances erupt when robots and their human sympathizers rise in protest. World leaders fear a robot rebellion, and governments across the planet initiate a major program to destroy all humanoid machines.

It would appears that most if any of the robots were not bound by the Three Laws of Robots.

  • This is not necessarily true. The three laws could be tricked if the recognition of what a "human being" is is done inside the robot. If humans programmed them, the programming may be imperfect, if it was done with the help of complex non-AI machines, the exact programming may have been not completely supervised. If the definition of a "human being" is connected with its level of self-awaraness, the 1st and 3rd law can easily interfere, resulting in a non-determined state. – n611x007 Jun 26 '12 at 18:14
  • The question states that it doesn't mean individual humans, but humans in "bulk", eg. do the machines actually try to comply with the (somehow tricked) laws by not simply wiping the entire in-matrix humanity. I'd add that especially when they could actually survive without them. I think this was not yet reflected in the answer. – n611x007 Jun 26 '12 at 18:19
  • @naxa: if you're talking the Three Laws, you have to do it in the context of individual humans. The answer citing the Zeroth Law, as formulated by the super-robot R. Daneel Olivaw, is the best answer. Citing Asimov, you could trick a robot into killing a human, but as soon as the robot realizes what it's done, its positronic brain is ruined. That would make soldier robots like honey bees when they should be like wasps. – Thom Brannan Mar 3 '13 at 3:17
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A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

No, no, and no.

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    No, No, and likely yes :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jun 25 '12 at 13:44
  • eh ? the final one is no – NimChimpsky Jun 25 '12 at 13:45
  • care to show an example where the machines failed to protect their existence while NOT under orders from higher-ranking ones? – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jun 25 '12 at 13:46
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    breaking rule 3 can be done by failing to do the first half when not in conflict with laws #1/2 and by doing the first half when in conflict with laws #1/2. Since we already established that #1/#2 are violated, the second case is kinda trivial, the interesting question is whether they do the first case. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jun 25 '12 at 13:50
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    @bitmask They violate Rule #3 by virtue of violating Rules #1 and #2. boolean getRule3(boolean rule1, boolean rule2) { if(rule1 == false|rule2 == false) { return false; } else { //Evaluate Rule #3 } } – Steam Jun 27 '12 at 17:33
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Negative. The machines in the "real world" violate first 2 laws

  1. they act in ways which terminate, never mind endanger human life

  2. they don't obey orders of humans.


HOWEVER, as far as the Third Law, the answer is a bit more muddy.

Breaking Law #3 (A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the #1 or #2 Laws) can be done in two distinct scenarios:

  1. by failing to do the first half (self preservation) when not in conflict with laws #1/2

  2. by doing the first half (self presevation) when in conflict with laws #1/2.

Since we already established that #1/#2 are violated in and out of themselves, the second sscenario is clearly violated in any attack by a machine on a human. The interesting question is whether they violate the 3rd law in the first scenario.

It's not 100% unambiguous whether they follow the 3rd law consistently but

  • they clearly don't just go around self-terminating for no reason

  • And there are plenty of examples of them trying to protect their own existence actively, e.g.

    • the programs which refuse to be terminated from the Matrix (Merovingian, the programs that tried to smuggle their daughter from the Matrix on the train station)

    • never mind the whole original war between machines and humans that was clearly self defense on machine part

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    maybe, but it seems a bit wooly to me, matrix.getRule3() returns a boolean and it is false – NimChimpsky Jun 25 '12 at 13:57
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    I'd disagree: when thousands (millions?) of sentinels (that's what they called them, right?) break the walls of Zion, it's pretty obvious that at least the first wave would be killed by the humans. That's a suicide mission. I'd argue this breaks self-preservation. – bitmask Jun 25 '12 at 14:14
  • @bitmask - not quite. They are following chain of command orders, quite likely on threat of termination in case of mutiny/disobedience. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jun 25 '12 at 14:57
  • Great point; I made a proper question out of it – bitmask Jun 25 '12 at 15:47

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