Three Laws of Robotics are a set of three rules written by Isaac Asimov, which almost all positronic robots appearing in his fiction must obey. Introduced in his 1942 short story “Runaround”, although foreshadowed in a few earlier stories, the Laws state the following:
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey orders given 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 Law.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first passage in Asimov’s short story “Liar!” (1941) that mentions the First Law is the earliest recorded use of the word robotics. Asimov was not initially aware of this; he assumed the word already existed by analogy with mechanics, hydraulics, and other similar terms denoting branches of applied knowledge.
The Three Laws form an organizing principle and unifying theme for Asimov’s fiction, appearing in his Robot series and the other stories linked to it, as well as his Lucky Starr series of science-oriented young-adult fiction. Other authors working in Asimov’s fictional universe have adopted them, and references (often parodic) appear throughout science fiction and in other genres.