The Three Laws of Robotics in the Age of Big Data

Privacy and Security, Cloud Computing, Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing and Artificial Intelligence

Article Snapshot


Jack M. Balkin


Ohio State Law Journal, Vol. 78, 2017, Forthcoming


Robots are set in motion by human beings. Laws governing robots should bind the firms and governments that use robots. Those that use robots, big data, and artificial intelligence should act in good faith and take care not to harm the public.

Policy Relevance

Policymakers should emphasize transparency and fairness in making ground rules for the use of robots, big data, and artificial intelligence.

Main Points

  • Science fiction author Isaac Asimov described three famous “Laws of Robotics” to guide robots’ interactions with human beings.
  • New laws will be needed to set ground rules for robots, artificial intelligence, and sophisticated algorithms; increasingly, this technology will be linked to the cloud and make use of big data, developments that Asimov did not foresee.
  • The central problem in making laws for robots is not the robots, it is the humans; robots are not self-aware and cannot have intentions or feelings.
  • Algorithms are used to classify and govern large numbers of people.
    • Algorithms should be used in good faith, not for domination or manipulation.
    • Potential harms from the use of algorithms include physical injury, privacy violations, exposure, reputational harm, discrimination, regimentation, and manipulation.
    • Consumers and citizens do not know much about algorithms, and cannot control them.
  • Those that use algorithms have fiduciary duties, including a duty of care and a duty of loyalty.
    • They should avoid harming members of the public.
    • They should avoid conflicts of interest affecting the public.
  • The firms and governments that use algorithms should not become algorithmic nuisances, leaving others to pay the costs (externalities) of their technologies, just as factories should not be permitted to emit uncontrolled pollution.
  • Algorithms can harm people by branding them as “risky,” without any kind of fair process or accountability.


Get The Article

Find the full article online

Search for Full Article