Person of Interest and the Asimov’s Laws

Recently I’ve been watching a lot of Person of Interest.  Initially, in the earlier episodes, I wouldn’t have considered it a science fiction series.  Mostly it’s a bit thriller, a bit police renegade.  As the how has gone on though the label applies to it more and more, with the machine being more of a character and the show delving into the nature of the machine’s artificial intelligence.

The machine in the show was created to assess all of the communication data in the US and then determine any threats from terrorists.  It also however finds small events that the government isn’t interested in.  It’s  these events that our heroes deal with.

There are some spoilers below.

Watching the other day prompted Woo to ask a question about whether or not it was following robotics laws.  And it took me a while, but in a way it does.

A robot (or in this case the machine) may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

We know that the machine goes out of its way to help people as it’s the entire premise of the show.  Harm is a slightly questionable term considering the number of people that should be moving with a limp by now in New York, but the machine cannot be said to be being inactive.

There are some interesting arguments about whether some of the foreign targets that the CIA are trying to take out classify as harm, however they ultimately come down to whether there is more or less harm by not acting.

2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the first law.

I had a tough time thinking about this one, however in the end I decided the machine might have the benefit of the doubt.  The machine has been built to operate away from human interaction, so initially I thought this rule was broken.  However we have seen Mr Reese make demands of the machine on several occasions for help and root now has the ability to phone the machine and ask for information.  The conclusion I came to was that given the people that would make demands of the machine and issue orders, the machine knows that fulfilling these orders would violate law 1.

3.  A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

we have now seen the machine ship itself away to an undisclosed location in order to avoid being found, so it is probably safe to say that the machine is trying to do exactly this.

I’m only on season three of the show, so I’ve no idea whether tha machine does anything in future episodes to violate these laws.  I hope however that the writers have stuck to them, either deliberately or inadvertently.


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