Cover image for The Three Laws of Robotics

The Three Laws of Robotics

Are Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics a good set of rules?

Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics have been widely cited as a foundational framework for designing and programming robots and artificial intelligence systems. These laws are often used as a starting point for discussions on ethics, safety, and responsibility in the field of robotics and AI. However, it is important to examine the limitations and implications of these laws in greater detail.

Machine Learning Asimov Robots Three Laws of Robotics Artificial Inteligence

23 March 2023 by Kevin McAleer | Share this article on


Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics have been widely cited as a foundational framework for designing and programming robots and artificial intelligence systems. These laws are often used as a starting point for discussions on ethics, safety, and responsibility in the field of robotics and AI. However, it is important to examine the limitations and implications of these laws in greater detail.

In 1942, Isaac Asimov, a renowned science fiction writer and biochemistry professor, introduced his Three Laws of Robotics in his short story ‚ÄúRunaround.‚ÄĚ These laws have since become a cornerstone of the field of robotics and artificial intelligence. But are they a good set of rules for robots and AI?


The Three Laws of Robotics

Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics are as follows:

  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 orders given 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.

These laws were intended to ensure that robots and AI were safe and beneficial to humanity. The laws are hierarchical, with the first law taking precedence over the second, and the second over the third.

The first law is perhaps the most important, as it is designed to prevent robots and AI from causing harm to humans. This law is intended to ensure that robots and AI do not behave in a way that is dangerous to humans, whether intentionally or unintentionally. It is a fundamental requirement for any robotic system that is intended to interact with humans.

The second law is intended to ensure that robots and AI follow orders given to them by humans. This law is intended to ensure that robots and AI do not behave in a way that is contrary to the interests of humans. It is intended to ensure that robots and AI do not become rogue or out of control.

The third law is intended to ensure that robots and AI take steps to protect their own existence. This law is intended to ensure that robots and AI do not behave in a way that would lead to their own destruction, which would be detrimental to humans.


Criticism of the three laws

While Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics are a good starting point for ensuring the safety of robots and AI, they are not without their flaws. One of the main criticisms of the laws is that they are too simplistic and do not take into account the complex ethical dilemmas that may arise when robots and AI are put into use. For example, what if following orders would lead to harm to humans? What if protecting their own existence conflicts with the interests of humans?

Another criticism is that the laws are too focused on human safety and do not take into account the welfare of other beings, such as animals or the environment. For example, what if a robot or AI is tasked with a job that harms the environment or causes harm to animals?

One of the main criticisms of the Three Laws is their lack of specificity. The laws are broad and general, leaving room for interpretation and implementation that can vary widely between different contexts and situations. For example, what constitutes harm to a human being? How should a robot prioritize different types of harm or danger? These questions highlight the need for more nuanced and specific guidelines to ensure ethical and safe use of robotics and AI.

Another limitation of the Three Laws is their anthropocentric focus. While the laws prioritize human safety, they do not address the potential impacts of robots and AI on non-human entities, such as animals, ecosystems, or other forms of life. In order to ensure that robots and AI are truly beneficial and sustainable, it will be important to expand our ethical considerations beyond human-centric perspectives.

Furthermore, the Three Laws assume that robots and AI will always behave rationally and predictably, but this may not always be the case. For example, if a robot is programmed to follow orders from a human, but the human gives an order that conflicts with the First Law, what should the robot do? Similarly, if a robot has to choose between protecting its own existence and protecting a human, how should it prioritize these conflicting imperatives? These types of scenarios illustrate the need for more advanced decision-making and reasoning capabilities for robots and AI, in order to ensure that they can navigate complex ethical and practical dilemmas.


A good starting point

Despite these limitations, Asimov’s Three Laws remain a useful starting point for discussions on robotics and AI ethics. The laws highlight the importance of safety, responsibility, and ethical considerations in the development and use of advanced technologies. As the field continues to evolve, it will be important to refine and adapt these laws to reflect new technological advancements and ethical considerations. Additionally, it will be important to develop more specific and context-specific guidelines to ensure that robots and AI are used in a way that is truly beneficial and sustainable for all entities involved.


In conclusion, Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics are a good starting point for ensuring the safety of robots and AI, but they are not without their flaws. As technology continues to advance, it will be important to refine and adapt these laws to ensure that robots and AI are not only safe, but also beneficial to all beings, including humans, animals, and the environment.


Artwork generated by Stable Diffusion

Robots in the Metropolis

Robots pushing a pram



Did you find this content useful?


If you found this high quality content useful please consider supporting my work, so I can continue to create more content for you.

I give away all my content for free: Weekly video content on YouTube, 3d Printable designs, Programs and Code, Reviews and Project write-ups, but 98% of visitors don't give back, they simply read/watch, download and go. If everyone who reads or watches my content, who likes it, helps fund it just a little, my future would be more secure for years to come. A price of a cup of coffee is all I ask.

There are a couple of ways you can support my work financially:


If you can't afford to provide any financial support, you can also help me grow my influence by doing the following:


Thank you again for your support and helping me grow my hobby into a business I can sustain.
- Kevin McAleer