In 1942, while the world was busy bombing itself to dust, three laws were emerging as the guiding principles for our new anthropological cousins, the next evolutionary arm of our expansive genus, robots.
These laws, set out succinctly by the American writer and biochemist, Isaac Asimov, are wonderfully-clear and sensible, and are, without doubt, the rules by which humanoids will develop.
Like many laws that exist in our society, they were crafted with an end goal in sight, one which sets limits and boundaries that benefit all of humanity, and it’s offspring.
For example, in the British Isles, the Salmon Act of 1986 stipulates that it is an offence to handle salmon under suspicious circumstances, and as yet, no one has made that faux-pas and been charged or convicted of suspicious salmon-handling. So, we can safely say, the law works, even in this time of lockdown, where wandering around the streets is fishy anyway.
Similarly, the Chicken Laws, observed faultlessly in the progressive state of Georgia, in the southeastern US, are examples of good law-abidance. In Gainesville, for example, the law states that you have to eat fried chicken with your bare hands, and everyone does, and in Quitman, it is illegal to allow your chickens to cross the road, because they could endanger themselves, or others, in the process.
And there is similar thought in the first Robot Law. It states that a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
Perfectly sane and useful, particularly to us.
As was the Australian Electricity Safety Act prohibiting Australians in the great state of Victoria from changing a lightbulb without a license, because of the perceived danger involved. How many Victorians does it take to change a lightbulb? None, apparently. And many poor souls may have sat out this pandemic year in total darkness because they didn’t realize that the law was revised in 1998, to allow lightbulb-changing to be carried out with care by a relative you don’t much like.
In Milan, in Italy's northern Lombardy region, fashion capital of the pandemic, you are required, by law, to smile at all times, as prescribed by a city regulation given to the Milanese by the Austro-Hungarian empire, and never repealed. You can drop that grin if you’re a hospital worker and the Covid prognosis of your patient is grim, or if the coronavirus proved, contrary to your ex-Facebook friends' beliefs, to actually exist, at funerals, which you can’t go to, of course. Otherwise, there is no excuse. Grin, lockdown or not, or be fined.
Of course, there must be occasions even today when you stub a toe or lose your entire life to the Covid pandemic, when you feel like dissenting, just like Asimov’s second law of robotics, that a robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law, of course.
Another important law, given the ageing population of the state of Florida, and the fact that they’ve been cooped-up (like Georgian chickens) in their houses for nine months, is the Flatulence law. Allegedly passed in the mid-1800s for reasons that shall remain in the mid-1800s, it is absolutely illegal to break wind, after six o’clock in the evening, particularly on Thursdays. My suspicion is that this law has not been observed very well, and that there have been many old farts in Florida all year.
It is also illegal to forget your wife’s birthday if you live in Samoa, even if you’re on a ventilator, or to not walk your dog at least three times a day in Turin, one assumes in three separate disguises for your daily exercise(s).
You may not allow a donkey to sleep in your bathtub in Arizona after seven o’clock at night, so that’s off my post-lockdown vacation list, although I will be going back to Scotland, where I can knock on any front door and be allowed to void my bowels in their toilet, by law.
Other activities I certainly won’t be taking part in when the lockdown restrictions lift, include driving with a blindfold in Alabama, where that particular pastime is illegal for some reason, or washing my neighbors car in Los Angeles, where I will be arrested if they haven’t expressly agreed beforehand. And, I will also not be playing bingo while intoxicated in North Carolina because there’ll be a ‘44’ (knock on the door) from number ‘5’ (man alive), who’ll want me ‘43s’ (down on my knees) for a ‘51’ (tweak of the thumb).
Which all brings us tangentially to Asimov’s third law of robotics, that a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Which means, of course, that if you're a woman, and you live in Vermont, you should probably just go ahead and break the law, and order that post-Covid set of new false teeth without your husband's permission, so you can brunch in glamour with your friends, the ones that are left, that is.
picture by Cottonbro