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Out-of-character discussion

Star Wars droids and Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics

It’s probably not helpful to apply Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics to Star Wars universe droids like M4-RK and J-8. For example, the First Law states that “[a] robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” Asimov interprets the second clause strictly. For example, in the story “Little Lost Robot,” the robopsychologist Dr. Susan Calvin uses that clause to test robots’ implementation of the Three Laws. Robots with a correct implementation would rush in to rescue a human who appeared to be in danger. In fact, they would normally do so even if a human revealed that it was just a test, because they couldn’t be sure that e.g., the force beam would prevent the heavy weight from killing the human, even if it did many times before. Furthermore, failure to save a human from injury or death — even natural death — may kill simpler robots or psychologically scar more sophisticated ones. It was a singular event in robot evolution when two very advanced specimens convinced themselves that higher goals (the survival of humanity) could outweigh individual humans’ lives.

Asimov does not apply these rules consistently. I can’t imagine, though, that M4-RK (the most morally encumbered droid in the party) would survive long with a bunch of bounty hunters if it implemented the Three Laws in a strict sense. If we insist on comparison: the combat medic role would require the Star Wars equivalent of both a narrowed Second Law (don’t take orders from the enemy; mistrust strangers by default) and a very flexible and robust First Law (so that it can make difficult surgical choices without going crazy).

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