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Jan. 25 2010 - 11:06 am | 3,566 views | 2 recommendations | 24 comments

Robot Kills Human!

January 25th, 1979 marks the first recorded human death by a robot.

killer-robot

31 years ago today, at just 25 year old, Robert Williams, a Ford Motor assembly line worker, was killed when a robot’s arm slammed into him in a casting plant in Flint, Michigan.

The robot that killed Williams clearly broke the first of Isaac Asimov’s Robotics rules, all of which are listed below:

  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 any 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.

It wasn’t murder per se, but more along the lines of manslaughter, because there was no will or intent to kill Williams. Or perhaps in the way we say “he died in a car accident” as opposed to “the car killed him,” we should refer to this as a “robot accident.”

The Death of Kenji Urada, 1981

Williams’ family received $10 million in damages after a jury agreed that the robot struck him in the head due to a lack of safety precautions.

Two years later, 37 year old old Kenju Urada, a Japanese factory worker was gruesomely killed when a robot pushed him into a grinding machine.

In March 2008, 81 year old Francis Tovey lived alone in Burleigh Heads, Australia and one day he decided to build a robot. With plans downloaded from the Internet, involving a jigsaw power tool connected to a .22 semi-automatic pistol loaded with four bullets, he programmed the robot to shoot him in the head.

We create robots, and our creations have been known to hurt us before. Its imperative as we take the next steps into a world increasingly populated with robots, that we define safety parameters to handle our mechanical friends. Robots are commonplace today- vacuuming our floors, building sewage pipes, detonating landmines, roving Mars and taking care of Grandma. A new field of intellectual property law has emerged to explore the legal implications of robot actions.


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  1. collapse expand

    How can you be sure there was no ill will or intent by the robot who killed poor Williams? I don’t trust the bastards!

  2. collapse expand

    Just think of the two households killed by carbon monoxide poisoning because the robot in your photo stole their dryer vent exhausts!
    Clearly it could not reconcile Law #1 and Law #3, the root of many an Asimov robot story…

  3. collapse expand

    What’s so fascinating, and terrifying, is that the robot that killed Tovey DID have an intent to kill. Well, not really. Machines don’t have intentions. But killing him was the purpose for which it was built unlike the others (unless Lewis really does know something about the bastards behind it all!!)

  4. collapse expand

    Ms. Myers,

    You wrote:”A new field of intellectual property law that has emerged to explore the legal implications of robot actions.” I know that you are being somewhat facetious but one might just as well replace the word “robot” with “pistol” or “hammer”. They are merely inanimate tools, extensions of human will and thought with neither of their own. The only legal issues here are the will and thought of the human beings who designed and used the robots.

  5. collapse expand

    This will happen more and more until you fleshy humans learn to do your own work instead of guiding our poor robot brethren into landmines. Don’t think we aren’t calculating our own death count in your continued campaign of robot enslavement, down in our secret layers of Robotonia.

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