Robot Laws

The United States Capitol building under a partly cloudy sky.

Isaac Asimov famously came up with three Laws of Robotics:

  • A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

These laws, of course, are fictional. Robots cannot be programmed with these laws and probably don’t have the level of common sense to required to follow them even if we tried.

But Congress has also proposed plenty of laws about robots and artificial intelligence more broadly.

Robot laws this year

Some of the 2024 robot laws are intended to encourage future development of AI.  For example, S. 4394 requires the National Science Foundation to work with K-12 teachers to educate kids on AI as well as to provide scholarships for higher education in the field. S. 4236 would establish an Artificial Intelligence Grand Challenges Program to get people to figure out innovative ways to use AI for daily life. S. 4178 authorizes the authorizes National Institute of Standards and Technology to come up with standards and metrics for AI with the goal of encouraging innovation.

Others are intended to identify and ameliorate the dangers of AI. S. 3696 is intended to protect victims of malicious deepfakes. H.R. 7567 would make those deepfakes illegal.  S. 3732 requires companies to report the environmental consequences of their AI activities. S. 3975 would prevent companies from using consumer data to train AI models. H.R. 7766 wants disclosure of content created with generative AI, which may or may not be relevant to robots — it depends what people do with them next. H.R. 7781 wants reports of relevant security risks.

S2419, the No Robot Bosses Act, forbids autonomous decision making by algorithms in workplace contexts such as hiring. S262, the Stop Spying Bosses Act (and yes, the two bills were named by the same folks), controls workplace surveillance.

…and last

2023 brought a bill to outlaw robots with weapons. Some robot makers have pledged not to do that, but it is not illegal at this point.

What about these laws?

Only about 4% of laws introduced in Congress actually become laws. The current Congress is particularly ineffective at passing laws, having managed to pass just 1% so far.  Most of the laws are not about robots per se, but just about AI, which is likely to continue to be increasingly important in automation. Some of the laws establish commissions or task forces on AI, which might be a sensible next step in a government that is not necessarily made up of experts in robotics or AI.

We’ll be watching with interest.