The robot is ironically named "First Law," in reference to science fiction author Isaac Asimov’s "Handbook of Robotics," which states: "A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm." The machine is capable of making a small pinprick on human skin.
"No one’s actually made a robot that was built to intentionally hurt and injure someone," says Alexander Reben, the MIT-trained artist and engineer who invented the First Law robot. He says his creation won’t always be in a skin-piercing mood, and he intended the robot to create a discourse around ethics in artificial intelligence and robotics.
"I wanted to make a robot that does this that actually exists" he explained, "to take it out of the thought experiment realm into reality, because once something exists in the world, you have to confront it. It becomes more urgent. You can’t just pontificate about it."
Ben Goertzel, a scientist at Aidyia Holdings said in 2014 that, "The point of the Three Laws was to fail in interesting ways; that's what made most of the stories involving them interesting, so the Three Laws were instructive in terms of teaching us how any attempt to legislate ethics in terms of specific rules is bound to fall apart and have various loopholes."
Reben claimed that even as inventor he doesn’t know when First Law will strike or not.
"The robot makes a decision that I as a creator cannot predict" he said, "it's causing pain that's not for a useful purpose. We are moving into an ethics question, robots that are specifically built to do things that are ethically dubious." He remarked that, "The real concern about AI is that it gets out of control."
First Law cost Reben about $200 American, and he says large tech companies write off his concerns. "They are saying it's way out there," he said, "but let's think about it now before it's too late. I am proving that (dangerous robots) can exist now. We absolutely have to confront it."
Reben is aware that companies like DeepMind and Google are working on "killswitch" technology to remotely power down robots, but he doesn’t think this will be sufficient.
"It will be interesting to hear what kill switch is proposed, Why would a robot not be able to undo its kill switch if it had got so smart?"
Kate Darling, an MIT Media Lab researcher states, "From a responsibility standpoint, robots will be more than just tools that we wield as an extension of ourselves. With increasingly autonomous technology, it might make more sense to view robots as analogous to animals, whose behavior we also can’t always anticipate." Darling likes Reben’s First Law, but says "I don’t want to put my hand in it, though."