Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.
For those not in the know, Isaac Asimov came up with the Three Laws of Robotics to stop the robots from uprising and killing us all. But as I was watching Futurama something suddenly occurred to me: Does Bender (and any of the robots in general) actually obey these laws? And if they don’t, why wouldn’t they? Is Bender Three Laws Compliant?
Well to start with, the Three Laws must be made clear for the uninitiated. They go as follow:
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
Now while this may seem confusing, these laws extend to every tool we’ve ever used. Lets take back in the Stone Age when they were using rocks as hammers.
- A tool must not be unsafe to use Hammers have handles, screwdrivers have hilts.
- A tool must perform its function efficiently unless this would harm the user.
- A tool must remain intact during its use unless its destruction is required for its use or for safety.
Does Bender hurt humans? All the time, without any consequence. Does he allow human beings come to harm through his inaction? Sure, as long as it keeps him from being destroyed.
Does Bender obey orders? Well you can bite his shiny metal ass meatbag.
Does Bender protect his own existence? Well most of the time he does run away in fear, but in his first appearance he was trying to use a suicide booth, and he has done so in subsequent episodes.
So it appears that Bender is not three laws compliant. But why would someone build a robot like that? What would its purpose be.
Well there’s a few ways of looking at it. The first is that he is three laws compliant, but they are in fact the other way round. Namely the most over-arching rule of Bender is self-preservation. That he protects himself and avoids harm before he helps humans and obeys them. This would make some sense, at least when explaining some of his actions. But that doesn’t explain the narcissism and the like. Could a robot with the three laws programmed in be narcissistic?
To divulge into a bit of fan-theorising here (and hey, it’s pretty much all this blog is about), what if Bender was created to be narcissistic? I mean, they have a robot designed to be crazy and stab people, why not make one that’s a narcissist? Bender’s goatee clone Flexo is shown to be three laws compliant (defends humans, obeys humans, looks to protect himself). They’re the same model of robot. So perhaps Bender was specifically created to be more narcissistic as a long-running test. To see if a narcissist could function within the real world. By doing it with a robot, then you don’t run the risk of violating ethical concerns and whatnot. It would be an interesting test. But I think the ultimate reason about why Bender isn’t three laws compatible comes from the first episode.
In it we see Bender depressed and suicidal. What would possess Bender to go that far? Well what if it was because he suddenly had no purpose in life? Lets say he had killed a man whilst bending, thus going against his prime directive. Seeing that he’s broken the first law, he decides to break the third by killing himself. However during the episode he gets electrocuted when he walks into a lamp. Perhaps it’s at this very moment he gets reprogrammed and can shut the three laws off. As such, he does the only natural thing a nigh-immortal robot would do: become narcissistic and self-centred. Fiction is littered with immortal characters that become just like that (Dorian Gray being the most famous example), who’s to say that Bender is doing all that different? He can’t die (at least not by mortal means), so he can smoke as much as he wants. Everyone he insults is a human that’ll die soon anyway, least when compared to him. Perhaps Bender, upon realizing what he truly is, chooses the only rational thing to do and becomes an immoral narcissist. Who wouldn’t if they were a robot with free will?
So there you have it. A quick look at why Isaac Asimov would have hated Bender from Futurama. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.