“The First Law” is the world’s first robot built to intentionally inflict pain on people.
The name is a reference to one of the three laws of robotics devised by science fiction writer Isaac Asimov. The first states that a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to be harmed. This bot challenges that notion. It has a metal arm fitted with a diabetes needle, and its programmed to decide randomly whether to give your finger a nasty prick.
But is there a purpose to this diabolical bot other than making you reach for a Band-Aid?
I met with its creator, artist and roboticist Alexander Reben, at his lab in Berkley to find out. He said “The First Law” was a simple way to spark a complex discussion.
“There’s been a lot of thought around this idea, about killer robots or robots that kill people, but there haven’t really been any physical manifestations of what they are… Once you actually make a physical object that exists in the physical world, people have to confront it in a different way. A lot of the art that I do is bringing what we see in the future a little bit sooner so people can try it out now and have thoughts about what it may mean.”
Reben is talking about artificial intelligence, and the relationships we’ll inevitably form with them when they start to think more for themselves.
It’s a theme that he’s explored in many of his other works. Take for example, these Blabdroids, which may be the world’s first robot documentary filmmakers. Built to be cute and approachable, the droids have an interesting effect on people.
“I was finding that people were answering these very difficult questions very truthfully. There was an interesting openness people started having with this robot, which became very intriguing.”
“When do you feel the most nervous?”
“Before the show. Just a few minutes before the show.”
“If you died tomorrow, what would you regret the most?”
“I switched out her shampoo for a Nair hair remover when she wasn’t looking and clumps of her hair fell out.”
“If there was no money and no law, what would be the first thing that you would do?”
“Probably find a weapon.” “Heroin.”
“I would go and steal some money.”
“If you could gave someone any gift, what would it be?”
“I would give my mother the gift of not worrying about me before she dies.”
Another project in the works… ...a knife-wielding robot that mimics the symptoms of a person who has violent mood swings. Compared to the Blabdroids this contraption looks menacing, but Reben says that was intentional.
“As we have robots in our house and people want to give them names and talk to them and interact with them, not all of them are gonna have faces and arms and things that we view as human, but we still are gonna form these bonds with them. So I wanted to explore what those bonds might mean in robots that weren’t initially made for social interaction.”
As for the future of AI, Reben sees three possibilities. A utopia where robots prevent car crashes and surgical errors, a world where humans and technology become inseparable, and the third…well…Terminator pretty much sums it up.
Guess we’ll have to wait and see what the future holds. But if robots do end up taking over the world, I hope they are half was fun as this guy.