How the three laws of robotics apply to writing and planning
Today is National Sci-Fi day, and while we’re not on Sci-fi this month (that’s later in the year) as our featured support genre, for advice Mondays, I thought I’d share a bit of a thought experiment.
We’re a nation – or half of one – proud of our ignorance https://t.co/3I5AMHu7Ia— Valerie Douglas #fantasy #thriller #romance (@ValerieDouglasA) January 2, 2020
Today would be Issac’s 100th birthday, and there’s little denying the impact he had on the world of sci-fi and writing. But the thing that always stuck with me the most was his three laws of robotics.
The three laws
(from Gismodo, who cites his story Runaround)
1. A robot may not injure 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.Issac Asimov
Later, Asimov added a fourth, or zeroth law, that preceded the others in terms of priority:
0. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.Issac Assimov
I have many theories on AI, given I’m eventually doing a Ph.D. on it (hence the combined STEM degree now), but I’m not going to address the fallacies and intricacies of why the three laws (and the additional zero law, which is almost the same, but not quite, as law 1) fail and cause problems. If you want to know why there’s a plethora of books out there exploring that and similar issues.
No, instead, I wanted to talk about how the three laws apply to writing.
But I’m not a robot…
As you’re quite right to observe, it’s highly unlikely that you are a robot. You might be, but then, that opens up questions, again, not for a writers’ blog. But when you look at the three laws of robotics and change the context to writing, something interesting happens.
- An author may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
I would argue this is common decency, but when there’s little of each online, it’s a good thing to bear in mind. It goes into a slightly broader concept though.
While there’s no admonition to not harm our characters (cause we might), there is a duty in every community for the weakest to be cared for by the stronger. Writing is not a zero-sum game, so, if anything, I’d argue the first of the Writer’s three laws is that we need to work to prevent bullying. As we watch the mess with the RWA unfold and look back on Cockygate, I wonder why it isn’t a credo adopted by more.
Beyond that, it also tells you not to hurt yourself. Planning and self-care are critical.
- An author must obey the rules of its community, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
I think the easiest way to explain this one is 1) Don’t pick on someone for upholding rules on a group, even if you personally think they’re not fair. It’s their group, you agreed and continue to agree when you joined, and to be frank, bullying a moderator is something that we’re going zero tolerance on – and that includes if we *hear* of it from a friend that’s a mod. Beyond that, mob mentality is dangerous online – there’s a difference between defending the downtrodden and forming a lynching mob, and I think this law aptly states that. If an author is unhappy with a review and asks their tribe to retaliate, maybe question the worth of that tribe, and the person leading it?
- An author must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Ah, you may say, doesn’t that mean if I don’t agree with people, I get to retaliate?
You need to protect *your own existence*. What Jilly, Bob or Timmy does, as long as it’s not hurting you, isn’t important to you. I’m actually interpreting this one to be ‘don’t compare yourself to others, someone will get hurt’.
Law 1, Kindness. Law 2, fair play and Law 3, personal obligation. All three make for the best writers and the best communities. Personal obligation does mean sticking up for the rights of others if you’re sure you should, but it also means accepting that you ‘do you’. One of the hardest lessons I learned last year was that if I’m not careful, I will stay away for too long because I have nothing to give. My personal obligation became to me and only me for a while, and that was ok. But I have an obligation to you guys too. So, Law 3…it could also be read as ‘help yourself, help others’.
I don’t really agree that the zero law exists in the case of writers, but there is one final one I think all writers need to follow.
Law 4 – An author must ensure that everything they put out reflects the best of their work and the best of them.
Each and every one of the team knows it’s hard to get things done in a budget, and we all sacrifice, but we are calling each and every one of our members to consider their reputations this year. Build good things, save and make things to the best of your ability, and only release books when they are professionally edited, covered and formatted. That way, you’re already ahead of a lot of people out there, who might see your example and follow suit (thereby helping you with the second and third laws ;)).
Yes, I belabored that one a bit, but I’m sure Asimov would forgive me.
Do you agree with my three laws of writing? What would you add?