Asimov’s Laws Violated

“A robot has killed a contractor at one of Volkswagen’s production plants in Germany, the automaker has said,” reports the Guardian, spinning an industrial accident into an internet sensation.

The 22-year-old was part of a team that was setting up the stationary robot when it grabbed and crushed him against a metal plate, Hillwig said.

He said initial conclusions indicate that human error was to blame, rather than a problem with the robot, which can be programmed to perform various tasks in the assembly process. He said it normally operates within a confined area at the plant, grabbing auto parts and manipulating them.

A programmable materials-handling machine is properly called a robot, however, the writer’s clever use of the verb phrase “has killed” invites the reader to imagine that the robot has agency in this case because the phrase is equally valid for deaths inflicted willfully (“a man has killed”) or passively (“a falling wall has killed”).

And anyway, the Guardian reads like the soul of discretion alongside Liberty Voice’s hysterical story “German Robot Kills Volkswagen Worker as Real Rise of Machines Reported”:

A German robot has killed a worker at the production unit of Volkswagen, in an incident which reveals the real rise of machines in the modern age. This can be considered as one of the first reported incidents which is evidence of machines and robots rising against the human race. With the fast-paced development in technology and growth of artificial intelligence, many sections of the society including scientists, sound skeptical when they are asked if humans will always be able to control the far superior and intelligent robots that we have built or will build in future. Considering the speed at which humans are becoming completely dependent on machines, it has been predicted that machines and robots will soon take over our lives, with many suggesting that it has already happened….

Here at File 770, of course, we practice responsible internet journalism, which is defined as repeating the irresponsible story verbatim with a skeptical introduction. Because cake, having and eating too!

7 thoughts on “Asimov’s Laws Violated

  1. Yeah, it left me feeling conflicted. And some of those Twitter comments are downright unpleasant (not like that’s news).

  2. In the time it’s taken me to write this sentence, somewhere on Earth about 100 people died, all of them unknown to me (I hope). If I have to respect a stranger who has had no contact with me save by a news item by adopting a sombre mien (and incidentally not criticising those reporting the matter), the reporter could at least have the respect to report the incident faithfully in said news item, instead of confusing the issues for the sake of sensationalism.

    We’ve had industrial robots for nearly two generations now, you’d think the journalists would have sorted out who’s responsible for industrial deaths like this by now (hint: it isn’t the robot). What are they going to do the first time a self-driving car is involved in a death?

    Right, back to the ironic comments:

    He said initial conclusions indicate that human error was to blame [..]

    Surely that reminds me of something….

    Well, I don’t think there is any question about it. It can only be attributable to human error. This sort of thing has cropped up before, and it has always been due to human error.

    Said our expert, Dr Hal… how do you pronounce that..? Dr Hal Gooo?

  3. Here at File 770, of course, we practice responsible internet journalism, which is defined as repeating the irresponsible story verbatim with a skeptical introduction. Because cake, having and eating too!

    Ethics in fanzine journalism! Victory!

    I seem to recall in one of his collections, someone asking or Asimov giving his feedback on what was then the first ever death by robot – a Japanese assembly line worker IIRC. Can’t recall the details, it was quite some time ago that I read it.

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