The Future of Mankind

A Question of Limits




Copyright Meghan McCracken, Jeff McGee, Marianne Pike and David Wheatley, 2004

When will Asimov's Laws become obsolete and require redefinition?


Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics:

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 the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the first rule

3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second rule

Alan Turing (source) proposed in 1950 in his paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence that, in short, machines could think. The long form of this claim, however, is more complicated; as Turing points out, the question "Can machines think?" requires a definition of both "machines" and "thinking," and since definitions widely vary on these terms he proposes instead the now-famous "Turing Test." Since this test has been widely reinterpreted and restated, it is presented here in its original form:

Imagine a psychological test in which there is a man (A), a woman (B), and an interrogator of either sex (C). (C) is in a separate room from the other two; he asks them both questions in an effort to determine which is the man and which the woman. It is (A)'s goal to try to confuse (C) by misleading or perhaps blatantly false answers; it is (B)'s goal to try to help (C), probably by giving truthful answers. Turing points out that it is perfectly within reason for (B) to say, "I am the woman," but since (A) can say this just as well, it is no help. Now, imagine that a machine takes the role of (A) and (C)'s goal is to determine which of the two is the machine and which the human. According to Turing, if (C) is ever incorrect in determining which is which, the machine has been shown to have intelligence.

The results of this test showed that a computer would be identified as human 30% of the time in the context of a five-minute conversation! (source: Imitation Games, see "Helpers")

In 1956, Allen Newell, J. C. Shaw, and Herbert created a program called the Logic Theorist, arguably the first program to show novel behavior and thus count as "artificial intelligence." The program was pitted against chapter two of Principia Mathematica, Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead's attempt to systematize and codify the principles of pure mathematical logic. The program succeeded in proving thirty-eight of the first fifty-two theorems presented there, but much more importantly, the program found a proof for one theorem which was more elegant than the one provided by Russell and Whitehead. (source)