We all have heard about Isaac Asimov's three laws of robotics (I hope) and I can imagine Star Trek's Starfleet have set up their own rules and/or laws of robotics to classify the impact of allowing androids and robots. After all, there are several androids and robots on Star Trek, including Picard's crew member called "Data".

How does Starfleet define its laws of robotics and at what time were they introduced?

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    Off the top of my head, I recall nothing of the sort in the TV shows. – Izkata Aug 7 '13 at 18:35
  • @Izkata During the episode "The Measure of a Man" (Star Trek: The Next Generation) — where Data must fight for his right of self-determination in order not to be declared the property of Starfleet and be disassembled in the name of science — there are multiple indications that such laws exist within Starfleet. Besides, knowing Isaac Asimov was a close friend of Gene Roddenberry, it would not be surprising to find laws related to Asimov's laws of robotics within Starfleet. – e-sushi Aug 7 '13 at 19:11
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    Asimov's laws were not programmed into data, or at least not very strongly. In The Most Toys, Data makes a decision to kill Artie in cold blood. – Zoredache Aug 7 '13 at 21:25
  • @Zoredache Just to make sure I'm not misunderstood: I asked how Starfleet defines its laws of robotics. I think we all clearly agree that Data did not obey Asimov's laws on several occasions, but that does not mean Starfleet did not define laws of robotics. It is a well known fact that — after the AI disaster in TOS — the federation was pretty uncomfortable with AI in general. As a logic result, Starfleet must have had laws of robotics. Therefore my question: how did Starfleet define those and when were they introduced? – e-sushi Aug 7 '13 at 22:21
  • @Zoredache Data was obeying Asimov's laws in that episode, or at least their equivalent... Except it was probably his own reasoning, not any pre-programmed laws. As mentioned in the plot summary you linked to, he determined that killing Fajo would, in the long run, save more lives. – Izkata Aug 7 '13 at 23:05

Robotics is an area of technology which has, over time, become glaringly absent in Star Trek, and in particular in Starfleet and Federation society. Yes, there is some automation, and, yes, TOS does on occasion portray the ship's main computer as having a personality of sorts, but strong AI is incredibly rare in the Star Trek universe, and even weak AI and basic robotics are very rarely employed in Star Trek plots, creating a strong disparity between how things are progressing in the real world versus how the Trek universe works.

In all of Star Trek, the only UAV/UCAV-type robots are Xindi sensor drones and Son'a drones (the Federation does have target drones and cargo drones, but these are automated space vehicles only mentioned in passing), and true AI like the exocomps, androids, and sentient holograms (e.g. Prof. Moriarty and the Doctor) are treated as a rarity/anomaly. This is very different from the world of Asimov's Robot series, where sentient robots are abundant, and their daily interactions with humans are a key focus of the plot.

In general, Star Trek's treatment of AI is very vague and hand-wavey (partly to ignore the horrific implications of AI slave labor), so it's unlikely that the writers have established any meaningful laws of robotics:

  • Main computers, even those powered by neural gel packs, are mostly portrayed as weak AI, or just a really, really, really powerful computer. It may have voice synthesis/commands, but from most interactions, it's clear that the computer isn't actually sentient, and the occasional demonstration of personality may simply be an illusion.
  • Non-biological/non-organic life-forms do exist, but they usually either evolved naturally (and thus aren't artificial) or by accident (thus still aren't intentionally designed) or are by other civilizations and end up being destroyed soon after contact with the Federation anyway. In any case, contact is not common enough for ethical or legal laws to be laid down. Rare legal precedents are seemingly ignored.
  • Holographic sentience is again inconsistently portrayed. Most holograms are treated as very sophisticated weak AI simulations by the holosuite/holodeck. But, occasionally, characters bond with specific AI, and if this happens in enough episodes (or magic happens), they may become sentient or even real. But clearly most holograms are not sentient, since we're not monsters: Two discarded EMH Mark I's working as forced dilithium miners are we?
  • The only other truly designed AI are by cyberneticists like Soong and Daystrom, and there's no evidence that either followed any laws of robotics. Only Daystrom's work was ever mass produced, and those were the main ship's computers.

So the only observable law of robotics within Starfleet is that: robots/AI resemble their creator or Andy Dick:

Noonian Soong

Dr. Noonian Soong, inventor of the positronic brain

His androids

Data, Soong-type android, looks just like Noonian Soong Lore, Soong-type android, looks just like Noonian Soong

Lewis Zimmerman

Dr. Lewis Zimmerman, creator of the Emergency Medical Hologram

His holograms

EMH Mark I looks just like Dr. Lewis Zimmerman EMH Mark II looks just like Andy Dick

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    Rare legal precedents are seemingly ignored. - I have a vague memory that the judgement was intentionally done such that it would not be a precedent, so that in the future it would be handled more on a case-by-case basis, which means it wouldn't apply to Lal... (However, I may be confusing the "not wanting to set precedent" with the judge in Dax's murder trial) – Izkata Aug 8 '13 at 1:20
  • @Izkata: To be honest, I'll have to revisit the episode. I just remember this was my first response when I watched the Lal episode, and these are actually the two episodes that I least like to watch because, like the Drumhead, they're so cringe-inducing for me on an emotional level. – Lèse majesté Aug 8 '13 at 1:30

After all, there are several androids and robots on Star Trek, including Picard's crew member called "Data".

Yes, but none of those androids and robots were designed or manufactured by the Federation and/or Starfleet. In every case, robots are the product of an alien race or some genius rogue individual.

Data is unique, but neither he nor his "brother" Lore seem to have been programmed with any kind of laws regarding the treatment of humans. This was done intentionally, as their creator Noonien Soong wanted them to have the freedom to grow as individuals.

The closest work applicable to the Federation would be holographic AI systems, which is already covered pretty well in the accepted answer.

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