Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics supplemented for 21st century care robots

August 15, 2014, University of Warwick

Isaac Asimov famously devised three laws of robotics that underpinned a number of his science fiction books and short stories, Professor Tom Sorell of the University of Warwick has helped develop a new set of rules that they believe will be needed for 21st century care robots.

Following recent developments in robotics research philosopher Professor Tom Sorell of the University of Warwick has helped produced six values to be used in properly-designed care-robots.

First fully stated in 1942 in the story Runaround, Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics sought to provide a framework for the relationship between humankind and robots, then mainly creatures of . Now that robots are widely used in caring for older people, as well as in military and industrial applications, rules for making and interacting with them are a practical and ethical necessity.

The six values are designed address the circumstances of older people in need of support and are to be embodied in the programming and hardware of the care-robot.

Professor Sorell argues that the six values can be promoted by a care-robot "depending on whether the purpose of the robot is to prolong normal adult autonomy and independence as far as possible into old age, or whether the purpose is to take the load off the support network for an older person".

The Six Values proposed are:

· Autonomy – being able to set goals in life and choose means;

· Independence – being able to implement one's goals without the permission, assistance or material resources of others;

· Enablement – having, or having access to, the means of realizing goals and choices;

· Safety – being able readily to avoid pain or harm;

· Privacy – being able to pursue and realize one's goals and implement one's choices unobserved

· Social Connectedness – having regular contact with friends and loved ones and safe access to strangers one can choose to meet.

Discussing the values, which were developed by Professor Tom Sorell from the University of Warwick, in collaboration with Professor Heather Draper of the University of Birmingham, for a European Commission funded project called ACCOMPANY, Professor Sorell from the University of Warwick said there were "moral reasons why autonomy should be promoted before the alleviation of burdens on carers".

"Older people deserve to have the same choices as other adults, on pain otherwise of having an arbitrarily worse moral status. And where the six values conflict, there is reason for autonomy to be treated as overriding", argues Professor Sorell.

On the question of whether the care-robot is answerable to the older person or carers who might worry about the older person and seek to restrict their activities, Professor Sorell says that the ability of the "to lead their life in their own way should prevail" with this being reflected in how the six values are applied.

Professor Sorell recognises that there may be exceptions to the primacy of Autonomy:

"Exceptions might be where older people lack 'capacity' in the legal sense (in which case they would not be autonomous), where they are highly dependent, or where leading life in one's own way is highly likely to lead to the need for rescue".

Care-robots that are designed to promote the six values and assist to pursue their own interests are, Professor Sorell argues, "better than robots designed merely to monitor the vital signs and warn of risks and dangers".

"Robots designed to let the user control information about their own routines and activities (including mishaps) are also to be preferred to those engaged in data-sharing with worried relations or ".

The researchers will continue to work on and refine the six values as engineers develop such devices and even Asimov himself continued to refine his own laws in later stories.

Explore further: Robots may need to include parental controls

Related Stories

Robots may need to include parental controls

April 30, 2014

Older adults' fears that companion robots will negatively affect young people may create design challenges for developers hoping to build robots for older users, according to Penn State researchers.

Want responsible robotics? Start with responsible humans

July 29, 2009

( -- When the legendary science fiction writer Isaac Asimov penned the "Three Laws of Responsible Robotics," he forever changed the way humans think about artificial intelligence, and inspired generations of engineers ...

Should your driverless car kill you to save a child's life?

August 1, 2014

Robots have already taken over the world. It may not seem so because it hasn't happened in the way science fiction author Isaac Asmiov imagined it in his book I, Robot. City streets are not crowded by humanoid robots walking ...

Asimov's robots live on twenty years after his death

April 9, 2012

Renowned author Isaac Asimov died 20 years ago today. Although he wrote more than 500 books, the robot stories he began writing at age 19 are possibly his greatest accomplishment. They have become the starting point for any ...

Recommended for you

After a reset, Сuriosity is operating normally

February 23, 2019

NASA's Curiosity rover is busy making new discoveries on Mars. The rover has been climbing Mount Sharp since 2014 and recently reached a clay region that may offer new clues about the ancient Martian environment's potential ...

Study: With Twitter, race of the messenger matters

February 23, 2019

When NFL player Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice, the ensuing debate took traditional and social media by storm. University of Kansas researchers have ...

Solving the jet/cocoon riddle of a gravitational wave event

February 22, 2019

An international research team including astronomers from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has combined radio telescopes from five continents to prove the existence of a narrow stream of material, ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (1) Aug 15, 2014
I would like to see Operational Definitions of these six 'values' that would allow a discrete logic to determine whether or not each of them is a consideration in any specific situation.
Asimov's Laws were very clearly and crisply defined. These 'values' do not seem to be.
When I studied epistemology as an undergraduate, I noticed from the number of life-long conflicts that arose among the professors of the 'theory of knowledge', most of which were traceable to equivocations of the verb 'know', that rigorous definitions were not their forté.
Also, "Safety Fourth" doesn't cut it. A person cared for should not be allowed to harm themselves in the name of granting them 'autonomy.'
Whenever I see a philosopher who cannot clearly define the terms, I think "There is a person who should have studied more of Pythagoras' Geometry and less of his Philosophy."
2 / 5 (1) Aug 15, 2014
Basically I just see this as trying to avoid some form of copyright infringement on Asimov's work. The three laws don't actually exist and the keywords (since I don't consider the above any more than that) all point to those three laws anyway.

As Lex not so eloquently stated, Asimov's work was a work of fiction. Science fiction, but fiction nonetheless.

However, since we are constantly developing this technology and it will eventually get to evolve on it's own, then we do need to think about how we are programming these things as we slowly guide them on their way to sentience and science fiction becomes reality.
not rated yet Aug 16, 2014
These new laws are for robots that are used to prolong life (or at least ease the later stages of life). But what laws apply for robots that are used to shorten life? I.e. drones.
not rated yet Aug 16, 2014
But what laws apply for robots that are used to shorten life?

Rule 303
not rated yet Aug 18, 2014
Asimov's robots where intelligent and self-conscious... just like the ones in the article??...
Common, We have a hard work to do on AI to meet Asimov's imagination.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.