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Laws of Robotics
August 20, 2004

Sometimes I am surprised at how many people reference Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics” in relation to Mega Man. Apparently, the fact that Asimov called them “laws” has confused people into thinking they are some sort of force of nature, like laws of physics. You know, that robots “can’t” do this or that because of the Laws of Robotics. But that isn’t the case at all.

Asimov made up the laws as a plot device for his creative stories. His laws apply for his robots in his pieces of fiction. And that’s all. They don’t apply to robots in real life. And they don’t apply to robots in anybody else’s works of fiction.

There is no default property of robots that forces them to follow “the laws” unless some brilliant robot creator can find some way to circumvent it. Quite to the contrary, a programmer would have to go out of his way to program the robot to follow the Laws of Robotics. Put another way, it would take more effort on the programmer’s part to force his robots to follow the laws than for him to allow his robots to simply ignore them.

If a robot is programmed to kill human beings, it will kill people, regardless of what any Law of Robotics says. There is no mysterious force of nature restraining the robot’s actions, staying its hand from slaying a human. There is nothing but programming, and the programming relies on the programmer.

Another thing to note is that a person could program some sort of ethics into his robots without actually using the Laws of Robotics. Just because a robot has programming to limit its destructive behavior doesn’t automatically mean the robot specifically follows “The Three Laws of Robotics” (which actually I believe are copyrighted), although people may nevertheless credit Asimov for coming up with the original idea of ethics programming to begin with.

How does all of this apply to the Mega Man series? Simply put, while it’s perfectly feasible that Dr. Light might program something along the lines of the Laws of Robotics into his robots, I can’t imagine Dr. Wily ever bothering. Why would Dr. Wily program feel-good laws about not harming human beings and such into robots he plans to use to take over the world? Also, programming a robot not to allow itself to come to harm (Law #3) seems counterproductive to Wily’s goals, as he is specifically placing his robots in the line of fire (and some are designed to even go so far as to blow themselves up in an attempt to take a hapless player with them).

Also remember that any robot which has a free will (which is about all of them in Capcom’s universes) would make any “laws” programmed into him to become instantly and completely irrelevant. After all, that is the definition of having a free will.

So would the Laws of Robotics exist in the Mega Man universe? Perhaps to some degree, and some scientists, notably Dr. Light himself, may have actually utilized the idea of the laws (either directly or indirectly) in their own creations. Would scientists run around quoting the laws like they were laws of physics? Hardly. Would Wily or Sigma be constrained by the laws? Not likely.

By the way, yes, I have noticed that Capcom’s own writers have gotten confused about this as well. As I said, the misconceptions appear to be extremely widespread, and game designers are human just like the rest of us.

Further reading:

- The MegaMaster



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