South Korea Drafting Robotic Laws

South Korea is promoting an ethics charter for robots. The new ethical charter will set standards for users and manufacturers of robots and will be released later in 2007. The charter is being drafted by a five member team of experts that includes futurists and a science fiction writer and will draw upon the three laws of robotics originally created by the science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov in the 1940s.

South Korea is one of the world leaders in robotics. The new ethical guidelines are seen as a natural development in a country where the government pumps millions into robotic research every year. The robotic charter comes after a recent government report forecasted that every South Korean household will have a robot by between 2015 and 2020 and that robots would routinely perform surgery by 2018. 

The team of experts from Korea will have several considerations in mind when drafting the robotics ethics charter. Among other things they will have to consider ensuring continued human control over robots, preventing illegal use of robots and protecting data acquired by robots. The three robotic laws created by Asimov in his 1942 short novel "Runaround".

Robotic Laws:
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 orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
In his 1985 novel "Robots and Empire" Asimov added a fourth law (called the zero law) which stated that:
0. A robot may not injure humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

In other courtiers experts are also considering the ethical future of robots. In 2006 a UK government study predicted that in the next 50 years robots could demand the same rights as human beings. Another European organization interested in the future ethics of robots is the European Robotics Research Network which is also in the process of drawing up a set of guidelines on the use of robots.

Image: I, Robot movie (credit: 20th century Fox).