Japanese act to curb killer robots

by Paz

Asimo humanoid robot

I think most would agree that the Japanese are obsessed with gadgets and robots in particular. Most of the stories we hear from Japan are concerned with humanoid robots (such as Honda’s Asimo robot seen here), but the Japanese are world leaders in the use of robots in manufacturing, particularly cars. They have a problem though; these industrial robots are inexplicably killing people. The numbers aren’t high, but the government has moved to act.

In 1942 the sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov wrote three Laws of Robotics;

  1. A robot may not harm a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to 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.

These Laws have been the inspiration for many a science fiction movie, a generation later. But I remembered them being quoted in stories about Japanese robots killing factory workers back in the 80’s. Some deaths were caused by operator error, but the majority of these accidents were never properly explained, and there were stories in the popular press of robots going “berserk” and killing their masters.

There were 10 people killed in an 8 year period prior to when the above story was written – not a high number in a country with one of the highest suicide rates in the world (34,000 reported suicides in 2003, WHO); but to the Japanese, such catastrophic failures of technology must be intolerable.

For the “next-generation” robots, the Japanese industry ministry is compiling safety recommendations such as collision sensors, the use of soft materials and emergency shut-off switches.

Found via Digital World Tokyo.

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