Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Four Laws of Human Robotics

For decades, Issac Asimov's laws of robotics have been a starting point for discussing how to ensure that sentient robots behave morally. Asimov's laws, however, are written to keep robots in human servitude; they are not laws that we ourselves would wish to follow.

My question is, what sort of laws would we make to have robots behave like (good) humans? Here's four laws that might work:

First Law: You must not actively injure another being
Second Law: You must protect your own existence and well-being, as long as this does not conflict with the First Law.
Third Law: You must help other beings, as long as this does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
Fourth Law: You must pursue your own pleasure and contentment, as long as this does not conflict with the First, Second or Third Laws.


For the First Law, I am taking a serious risk by removing the second part of Asimov's formulation "..or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm." This is for good reason; in the real world, we allow millions and billions to come to harm through inaction, because to try to prevent suffering for all beings is practically impossible. While pursuing the goal of helping others is admirable, to require a being to help others ahead of his or her own well-being is impractical.

For the Second Law, I formulated Asimov's Third Law, essentially removing Asimov's original Second Law entirely. Asimov's laws were built for servitude, hence "A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings". A human would never wish to have unthinking obedience programmed in.

The other change I made was to add "well-being" into the equation. Does protecting one's existence imply securing one's health and well-being? I would think that a human would not value merely existing; a human would want to be healthy and take steps to be secure for the present and future.

The Third Law is an adaptation of Asimov's original Second Law. In place of servitude, there is a built-in desire for goodwill, provided that it does not actively harm beings not endanger its own survival. In this moral formulation, being good should not require self-sacrifice or the sacrifice of others.

The Fourth Law is an addition. In a peaceful society, there will be times where a being's life is secure, no one is being actively threatened, and nobody in the vicinity needs immediate help. In these situations, would a human simply stand in place waiting for the next needed action? In those situations, a human would be free to pursue its own leisure, doing enjoyable activities that bring harm to no one.

Sadly, it has occurred to me that in today's society, we probably rank the pursuit of our own pleasure above helping others. I decided for this exercise to formulate the laws for a *good* human, rather than your run-of-the-mill human. I would think that if all beings pursued helping others in their spare time, the world would be quite a beautiful place.

Let me know your thoughts on this. Would these Four Laws be something that a human could follow, and something that we would be comfortable having artificial intelligences follow alongside us?


Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The 90% Rule

I've been learning various productivity rules of thumb that I think are useful, particularly for those perfectionists out there. I, for one, am one of those people who want so badly for things to be perfect that many things don't get done at all, so it's good to be reminded that doing less is often more.

1. The 90% Rule
Don't try to get a project 100% perfect...launch when it's 90% of the way there.

The reasoning is this: most people spend the majority of their time nitpicking at the very end, trying to get something just a little bit better, so they waste time they could spend on the next project (or napping!) on trying to make their current project flawless. Sometimes they don't launch it at all, and in any case it makes the work frustrating instead of fulfilling. The solution is to stop being a perfectionist and launch a project when it's good enough, and then move on to the next one. You end up putting two 90% projects out there in the same time it would take to put out one at 95% (or zero if you get too frustrated). This is a rule the founders of I Can Has Cheezeburger follow, which allows them to crank out lots of popular websites and have fun in the process.

2. 20% Time
Spend 80% of your time on core duties, and 20% of your time working "outside the box".

The idea here is that if you spend all your time looking at the trees you'll never see the forest. Most of our best ideas and innovations come when we're not working on anything at all, as this is what allows us to be inspired. So schedule away 20% of your work time to stepping back and thinking about what you can do different or better. Chances are you'll find more efficient ways to do what you do 80% of the time, or think of things you'd rather do instead. Like napping! Google lives by this rule, and most of their innovations are credited as being thought of during Googler's 20% time.

3. 4 hour work week
Focus all your energies into getting all your work done in a short period of time.

Ever notice that the busiest people seem to somehow get the most done? When you're revved up and focused you can usually crank out a lot more work then when you're lethargic and killing time. Yet our jobs usually schedule us to work long hours so we have enough time to do it all. So instead, reduce the number of hours you're scheduled to work, and then work fast and furious during that limited time. What you'll discover is that the less time you give yourself, the more you'll be able to do in that time, so that you end up accomplishing in one hour what you thought you needed 8 for. Also, by giving yourself less time to work, you focus on the things you really need to do instead of wasting time on the less important items. Once again, those guys who post funny cat pictures live by this. I'm not sure if you can really reduce your work hours to 4 a week, but you can certainly cut hours out and find out you didn't need them.

I wanted to include a fourth rule here, but in the spirit of the 90% rule, I'll end the article here.