I am having the kind of weekend that would make Saint Francis of Assisi strangler a badger. I’ve got a long list of things I need or want to get done, but every time I start on one I’m immediately blocked by either disruptions to public transport or unexpected consequences of past decisions. It’s unutterably frustrating, so much so that if anyone had even glanced at me sideways during my last attempt to get something done I would have been hard pressed not to scream and physically attack them.
So it’s no wonder that my mind has turned to weapons.
Many years ago I read an essay by the great writer Isaac Asimov in which he discussed how his famous Three Laws of Robotics were actually a specific implementation of a more general Three Laws of Tools. For those unfamiliar with the Laws of Robotics they are…
1: A robot shall not harm a human, or through inaction allow a human to come to harm.
2: A robot shall obey the instructions given to it by a human, except where this would conflict with the first law.
3: A robot shall preserve its own existence, except where this would conflict with the first or second laws.
(There’s also a ‘zeroth’ law that Asimov introduced later, but we’re not worrying about that for this discussion.)
In his essay Asimov reformulated these into his Three Laws of Tools:
1: A tool shall not harm a human, or through malfunction allow a human to come to harm.
2: A tool shall do what the user intends, except where this would conflict with the first law.
3: A tool shall not break, except where this would conflict with the first or second laws.
In deriving these Laws he mentioned that they do not apply to weapons, and even speculated as to whether weapons should be considered a specialised subset of tools, or not even count as tools altogether.
It was the non-applicability of Asimov’s laws to weapons that I found myself thinking about the other day. Could a similar set of Laws could be created to cover the very deliberate harm-causing nature of weapons? After a bit of mental back and forth I realised that Asimov’s Laws – although stated as Laws – are actually carefully ranked priorities, and looking at things that way eventually allowed me to tweak them into the Three Laws of Weapons:
1: A weapon shall not harm a non-target or through malfunction or inaction allow a non-target to come to harm.
2: A weapon shall do what its operator intends, unless this would conflict with the first law.
3: A weapon shall not harm itself unless this contradicts the first or second laws.
The crucial difference is of course the division of humans into people you want to harm – targets – and people you don’t want to harm – non-targets. Once that’s done the laws work perfectly.
So, now you know the Three Laws of Weapons. Try not to need them.