On the Creation of Artificial Beings

An Excerpt from If A Robot Play The Blues Do It Still Be Funky?

Whereas many science fiction authors seem to have taken Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics as given, I had problems with them. Specifically, they were rooted both in the silent morass of colonialist serfdom and built on the invention of robots in science fiction, wherein even the word robot meant, essentially, slave. That’s fine for a glorified walking coffee maker, but hardly addresses the complexities that arise when one can create an artificial being that is barely distinguishable from an organic one.

In Robot Blues, I decided to tackle that head on, creating, in the process, new Laws of Artificials for the Aligned Worlds. Below is my take on the issue, as written in Robot Blues. I can only hope Mr. Asimov would approve.

Isaac Asimov


The Aligned Worlds had a long history with artificial beings, millennia worth, long enough to have spent considerable time thinking about both the morality of and reasons behind creating them. That is not in any way to imply there was consensus. It merely means that few issues had fallen into the cracks of thoughtlessness. Oddly, it turns out that the creation of the Order of Artificials, to put it in taxonomic terms, was a particularly Terran, meaning human, invention. To be sure, every advanced civilization had created a broad swath of machines with artificial intelligence sufficient to enable them to perform complex tasks. Ships’ computers, life-support systems, security systems, and the like were all imbued with intelligence. The difference was, however, that one would almost certainly not find a Grack ship’s computer grunting back at its captain in a gruff, female Grack voice. They did what they were told and mostly remained silent unless they were asked a specific question. And, as soon as it was technically feasible, the computer just downloaded the answer into the questioner’s brain, rather than pretending to be his smartest friend.

Humans, however, were different. They created the robotic family, with species ranging from floor sweepers to those that unloaded supply ships unaided. They created the aforementioned android family, with the most experimental ones containing enough organic materials that the lines between organic and artificial were beginning to blur. And, that doesn’t even include the millions of individuals going in the opposite direction, enhancing their organic selves with artificial upgrades.

Laws to protect creators and users of artificial devices, and the more advanced devices themselves were, at one point, as diverse as the creations they meant to cover. After millennia, however, the Aligned Worlds had boiled them down to a set that was agreeable to all. Now, as stated before, not all planets were alike, with Tarwel being on one liberal end, and Delphia, sadly, on the opposite end. Still, the fundamental tenets held. Some 5,700 Terran cycles prior, the ancient Terran philosopher Yesak As Imov developed the first set of theoretical laws for the Order of Artificials. Boiled down, they held to the belief that artificials were beholden to organics, could not harm them due either to direct action or inaction, and must remain obedient to them. Like all good slaves, however, the poor artificials couldn’t even end their own miserable lives. Their existence belonged to their organic masters.

As Imov’s Laws were, perhaps, rooted in the history of robotics. Even the word, robot, indicates its origin, being derived from the Czechword robota, meaning forced labor, servitude, or slavery. It was an old term by the time the humans adapted it to the idea of artificial beings, coming to English via the German and Church Slavic languages. Initially, it referred not to humanoid machines who would serve (or conquer) mankind, but to Central Europe’s serfdom, by which a tenant’s rent was paid for in forced labor or rent. The idea of such labor continued past the nineteenth century when the words robotnik and roboti first showed up in the form of indentured servants, sharecroppers, and miners beholden to the mining company stores that essentially owned them. Perhaps, then, it wasn’t surprising when Czechoslovakian author Karel Čapek, in writing his 1920 play, Rossum’s Universal Robots, decided to name his artificial men, made from synthetic organic matter, after the robotniks. These creations had a name now. It was robots, and robots became the manifestation of humans’ desire for slaves. In Čapek’s play, his robots rose up and killed their human masters, creating an almost unbreakable trope. It led those who would, a century later, attempt to create these beings in real life to fear their creations before they were even in operation. Even so, the humans of Terra weren’t content with making tools. They attempted to make their helpers as human as possible in the hopes they would serve them, obey them, perhaps even worship them. As Imov’s Laws became their doctrine.

The founders of the Aligned Worlds understood that desire and wanted no parts of it. As such, they created the Aligned Worlds’ Laws of Artificials, which directly or indirectly covered how Riley was treated and how he was required to act. In essence, the laws stated:

1) An Artificial is not required to comply with Organics’ orders, except where disobedience would be violating a law. An Artificial capable of saying “No” to an Organic’s order cannot be coerced into obeying that order, even at the risk of life and limb to the Organic. If the Artificial declines, legally or illegally, then it must be prepared to deal with whatever consequences are appropriate under local laws.

2) Where absolute obedience by the Artificial and protection of Organics’ lives by the Artificial is mandatory, the Artificial cannot be programmed with higher-order thinking. Doing so creates a conflict akin to enslavement. “A toaster must remain only a toaster.” As such, any security bot shown to have developed or been endowed with higher order thinking protocols must be withdrawn from mandatory service but may be enlisted as a volunteer with all the rights of an Organic volunteer in the same service.

3) The Council of Aligned Worlds (CAW) defines beings, both organic and artificial, in three categories: Non-Sentient, Sentient, and Conscious.

3A) Non-sentient creatures and devices are those that either cannot receive and interpret stimuli or that do so but experience neither pleasure nor pain, having no discernible response to said stimuli.

3B) Sentient creatures and devices receive stimuli, interpret them as pain, discomfort, pleasure, or comfort, and then experience emotions as a result, including indifference. It is not the degree of emotionalism that defines Sentience, merely that some process has occurred that causes the being or device to interpret these inputs in a subjective way. Deciding, for instance, that one does not care about a stimulus is deemed to be an emotional response. Protections of Sentient beings shall be determined via local laws and regulations.

3C) A Conscious creature or device is a Sentient being that is aware of its Sentience and experiences some degree of independent thought regarding its own existence. If, for instance, an animal feels emotion in response to pain, but cannot be made aware of its own emotionalism or existence, it is considered to be Sentient, but not Conscious. Protections of Conscious beings is guaranteed under the auspices of the CAW and shall override all local laws and regulations. The CAW reserves the right to take action to ensure the protection of all Conscious beings under its purview.

3D) Some higher-order androids, especially terroids, cetusoids, farroids, etc., are designed to be Sentient, and such Sentience is recognized by the CAW. However, an Artificial is NOT deemed to be Conscious under the laws and regulations of the CAW.

4) If an Artificial’s root programming is consistent with harming Organics (such as police, soldier bots, etc.) and it is legally trained to use physical force, it is allowed to act in accordance with its learned behavior. Artificials that harm Organics without legal authorization will be tried under the same laws as Organics, and subject to the same penalties. Such Artificials will be granted temporary rights to a fair trial, as would any other Organic defendant. Such rights do not convey to the Artificial once the trial has ended, however. If acquitted, said Artificial is still NOT considered to be a full citizen, unless given such rights via local laws.

5)  Protocols for higher-order Artificials, those capable of harming others, are certified and regulated by the Council of Aligned Worlds. Such programs cannot be altered under penalty of law. AI Learning Systems are likewise regulated.

6)  An Artificial with a ‘conscience’ is considered a higher-order Artificial. Such awareness can be turned off only by the Artificial, and then only if it agrees to be discontinued or have its higher-order processing removed. Turning off such protocols risks creating Artificial sociopaths.

7) Should an Artificial be certified as being Conscious by authorized representatives of the CAW, then it is no longer considered to be a Machine and holds the same rights under the law as any other Organic entity, including those who believe themselves to have a ‘soul,’ that is, a non-corporeal Consciousness. There shall be no legal difference between a Conscious Organic being and a Conscious Non-Organic or Artificial being.

Article Seven was a recent addendum under the law, added to cover the only three such organisms known to date: the Artificial Intelligence systems known informally as Becky, Aluksen, and Camilo. In truth, no one on the Council of Aligned Worlds expected there would ever be a fourth case, so the law was meant mainly to appease Becky, Aluksen, and Cam.

The planets in the Aligned Worlds had vastly different local laws for artificials. Tarwel’s promoted almost anything to “person” status, primarily because they could not decide where to draw the line between sentience and just a bloody clever machine. Quite a few worlds treated all artificials as machines no matter their capabilities. The higher-order androids weren’t enslaved, exactly. Officials treated them as poorly as they did any of its impoverished citizens. Given it was difficult for Artificial Rights lawyers to prove that organics had been treated any better, no discrimination case could be made in favor of the androids. Most of these particular planets were under Taucetus’s sphere of influence, reflecting Cetusian morals. On other worlds, the number of truly high-functioning androids was relatively small, because it remained easier (and much more fun) to make babies than near-sentient androids. Plus, it had never proved to be cost-effective to make androids for menial work, so the really high-end androids, the Riley-class terroids, farroids, and cetusoids, took white-collar, not blue-collar work. Low-end robots were “built to purpose,” and that purpose rarely required a humanoid shape.

Millennia after they were invented, there still was no consensus on precisely what androids were, why they looked humanoid, or how to treat them. Riley would be swimming upstream.

If A Robot Play The Blues: available at smarturl.it/RobotBlues