Law of Robotics n.

in the writing of Isaac Asimov: each of three (later sometimes four) rules devised to govern the behaviour of robots

Esp. in the Three Laws of Robotics, formally stated as:
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 1985, Asimov added a ‘Zeroth Law’, taking precedence over the others:
0. A robot may not harm humanity or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

SF Encyclopedia


  • [1941 I. Asimov Liar! in Astounding Science-Fiction May 53/2 page image Isaac Asimov bibliography

    ‘You know the fundamental law impressed upon the positronic brain of all robots, of course.’…‘Certainly…. On no conditions is a human being to be injured in any way, even when such injury is directly ordered by another human.’]

  • [1942 I. Asimov Runaround in Astounding Science-Fiction Mar. 100/1 page image Isaac Asimov bibliography

    Let’s start with the three fundamental rules of Robotics—the three rules that are built most deeply into a robot’s positronic brain.]

  • 1944 I. Asimov Catch That Rabbit in Astounding Science Fiction Feb. 165/2 page image Isaac Asimov bibliography

    If your analysis were correct, Dave would have to break down the First Law of Robotics: That a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to be injured.

  • 1944 Astounding Science Fiction Dec. 5/1 page image

    The robot part of the robot bomb is, of course, a low-grade idiot among robots. Incidentally, it violates, seriatim, all three of Asimov’s ‘Three Laws of Robotics’.

  • 1954 I. Asimov Caves of Steel viii. 94 Isaac Asimov

    The First Law of Robotics states that a robot cannot harm a human being.

  • 1974 G. Butler Coffin for Canary viii. 100

    Perhaps we are robots. Robots acting out the last Law of Robotics… To tend towards the human.

  • 2002 G. Benford & E. Malartre in Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction Feb. 116/1 page image

    His memory erased, his human ethics are replaced by four directives to govern his behavior (an idea borrowed from Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics).

Research requirements

antedating 1941

Last modified 2020-12-20 18:37:51
In the compilation of some entries, HDSF has drawn extensively on corresponding entries in OED.