Is there any work by Asimov regarding how the three laws of robotics apply for non human intelligent beings? Do they apply only for humans or can they be extended to any intelligent being?

  • I don't remember that there are actual non-human aliens in the robot series. The only non-humans are the robots themselves. – DJClayworth Jun 24 '11 at 21:00
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    I've removed the part about other authors in your question. We've found that such “list questions” attract many poor answers with just one example each, rather than a few great answers as we prefer, and so they are off-topic on this site. A good resource for lists of works (especially SF) is TV Tropes. Answerers should feel free to support their answers with other authors, but please base your answers on something about Asimov. – user56 Jun 24 '11 at 21:18
up vote 18 down vote accepted

Yes.

In That Thou Art Mindful of Him a pair of highly advanced robots study the laws, discuss the weights they must give to them in the event of conflicts (such as saving a child versus and elderly person, etc) and eventually decide that they are 'human' as defined by the laws in every way that matters. They then decide that, as the most advanced 'humans', and as those whose potential to help humanity in general is highest, they are 'most human' and best suited to giving each other orders. In effect, they reason their way into a state where they can place their own good above the good of others.

This would not be possible if the Three Laws didn't cover non-human intelligence (or if the definition of 'human' weren't flexible enough to extend to any sentient being).

  • Is this where the Zeroth law comes from? (I read that as a word, for years, until I realized they meant Zero'th law. Ah well, amusing how things like that happen!) – geoffc Jun 24 '11 at 15:03
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    No, the Zero'th law was not mentioned in that story. It was added later, in Robots and Empire and described before that (but not articulated as such) in "The Evitable Conflict", which I believe came after 'TTAMoH'. – Jeff Jun 24 '11 at 16:05
  • The Zeroth Law was only formulated as such in Robots and Empire (1985), but it was almost formulated in “The Evitable Conflict” (1950). “That Thou Art Mindful of Him” happens earlier than “The Evitable Conflict” in the internal chronology, but was written much later (1974). – user56 Jun 24 '11 at 21:11
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    TTAMoH is about whether all humans are truly included in the Three Laws, a theme that Asimov briefly returned to with the Solarians in Robots and Empire and Foundation and Earth. I don't remember non-humans being discussed by Asimov. – user56 Jun 24 '11 at 21:13

In "Victory Unintentional", humans send three robots to the surface of Jupiter, to make contact with the belligerent Jovians. The robots were built to be extremely robust and programmed to be as inoffensive as possible. For much of the story the Jovians arrogantly show off their superior might and science, while the robots walk around completely invulnerable to it all, profusely apologizing for breaking everything they touch, and conferring among themselves about whether the human race can possibly survive the coming war, and whether anything can be done to prevent it.

The story is humorous, and not really a part of his Robot series, but the Three Laws are present and clearly do not give human status to the Jovians.

  • But do they ever violate the Three Laws? They obviously PREFER humanity to the Jovians (the same as they give preference to whom they save in an emergency, under the first law) and want humanity to survive, but I don't think they ever violate the Laws. They are never given an order, they are never put into physical peril (so we can't see if they'd kill a Jovian to escape it), and they don't kill any Jovians. They do not give the Jovians the title of 'human', but they do not (explicitly or implicitly) deny them the protections and rights the 3 Laws give to 'humans'. – Jeff Jun 30 '11 at 14:20
  • @Jeff: They witness the death of a Jovian (killed by friendly fire) without agitation, their compliance with commands and concern for the safety of their hosts seems to stem from a desire to avoid giving offense (I seem to remember the most tactless of the three tilting a foundry crucible in order to look at the molten metal-- and stir it with his arm -- while Jovians scramble for safety), and they consider wrecking the factories and (if memory serves) bombarding the planet with H-bombs, and dismiss these plans as futile. (Forgive any mistakes of memory-- it's been thirty years.) – Beta Jun 30 '11 at 19:22
  • Apparantly I don't remember the story as well as I thought, then. Though I will point out that the tilting of the crucible and the discussion of offensive actions against the planet are not in violation of the Laws. About the rest, I have no response. – Jeff Jun 30 '11 at 19:35
  • Technically you're correct, but in Asimov's stories the Laws are reflected in attitudes, not just actions. I may have been mistaken about the bombardment -- I know it's discussed by men in the preceding story -- but when the robots tilt the crucible and consider whether to wreck the factory, it is clear that the safety and wishes of the Jovians are not foremost in the their minds. Just imagine them doing that with humans; Asimov's robots just don't act that way. And besides, why would they consider a plan that they knew they could not carry out? – Beta Jun 30 '11 at 20:40
  • Because the safety of humans-like-earthmen trumps the safety of humans-not-like-earthmen, by virtue of humanity's general traits that make them more 'valued' by the Laws (per TTAMoH) - especially the lack of xenophobic genocidal (xenocidal?) tendencies and the overall lack of a massive superiority complex as a species. – Jeff Jul 1 '11 at 13:06

I depends on the individual robots and their programmers. I remember that one of the robot stories includes Spacer robots that have been given an extremely narrow definition of "human", such that it doesn't include Earth-born humans. Can't recall the name of the story right now, though.

Asimov also considers circumstances in which the rules might not apply to the whole of humanity. In Robots and Empire the Solarian robots have been adjusted to limit their classification of human to only those who

speak with a Solarian accent.

  • Interesting observation but not an answer to the question. A subset of humanity is still humanity and the question is about extension of the rules to non-humans. – Stan Oct 7 '13 at 14:37
  • If you can bend it that far, than you can bend it very far the other way. – Joshua Jan 4 '16 at 1:46

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