Robot which can choose to harm humans sparks artificial intelligence debate

Fear of man made machines is growing as they become stronger – but Alexander Reben says his new invention shows we need to prepare for the worst

A robot which has the capacity to decide it will inflict pain on humans has been invented – breaking one of the standard rules for artificial intelligence.

From Will Smith movie I, Robot, one of the laws of robotics is commonly considered to be that it cannot injure humans.

But scientists and artist Alexander Reben has invented “The First Law”, a robot named for the very rule it breaks.

The basic robot is programmed to be capable of pricking a human’s finger. However, as Mr Reben is intending to provoke discussion on AI, The First Law will not ‘decide’ to inflict pain every time.


“The robot makes a decision that I as a creator cannot predict – it’s causing pain that’s not for a useful purpose – we are moving into an ethics question, robots that are specifically built to do things that are ethically dubious.”


I, Robot’s original author and biochemist Asimov wrote the Three Rules of Robotics in 1942, number one of which read: “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.”

Mr Reben, who spent around £141 on the machine, says his invention calls this rule into question.

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“[The tech giants] are saying it’s way out there, but let’s think about it now before it’s too late. I am proving that [harmful robots] can exist now. We absolutely have to confront it.”

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Last week it was revealed that scientists from Google’s artificial intelligence division, DeepMind, and Oxford University are working on an AI ‘kill switch’ which could incapacitate robots if needed.

Mr Reben says it’s not as easy as that.

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