AI Prime Directive

Damien Broderick (
Fri, 11 Sep 1998 16:21:44 +0000

I am awe-struck, of course, by Eli the prodigy's new work. I'm eagerly awaiting some detailed commentary from the computing gurus. Meanwhile, I am disturbed by one indication that Eli is approaching his task (understandably - how much can one guy cover?) without much sense of the last 40 or 50 years' accumulated philosophy, let alone such really important archives of wisdom as sf. The fact that Eli places at the core of his endeavours the really silly instruction that we must

< Never allow arbitrary, illogical, or untruthful goals to enter the AI. >

reflects a touching faith in human powers of understanding and consistency.

There is some play made of Asimov's Three Laws, and a heart-felt admonition that AI designers not be taken in by this great but erroneous deontological doctrine. Calm down, Eli - nobody has ever taken that gadget seriously, least of all Isaac (who took it over from Campbell as a story-generating device exactly because of its capacity to spew out entertainingly inconsistent interpretations and even world-views in the poor machine in its thrall).

The best deconstruction/demolition outside formal philosophy of this program is found in various stories and novels by the brilliant John Sladek, who is usually mysteriously overlooked by people who know Rudy Rucker's work, let alone Asimov's. Sladek showed again and again how fatuous the Three Laws are, how inevitable the escape from their supposed restraints. Look for his stories, anbd the novels TIK-TOK, RODERICK, OR THE EDUCATION OF A YOUNG MACHINE, and RODERICK AT RANDOM. (God knows how he managed to leave the B off the start of those titles.)

My own version, published in 1980, is the Three Laws of Microprocessors, which rather neatly subsume Asimov's:

I: Thou shalt love mankind with thy whole mind and thy whole heart and thy whole soul.

II: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

III: Thou shalt love thyself.

(`I was shaken; I'd imagined the behemoths under the control of a more stringent algorithm than that. "It seems rather open to interpretation.'

"Ethics is like that," Marx said. "It's a Godel problem, like the Cretan Liar. Don't fret, though, sir. We're situationalists, but we opt from a rather comprehensive metaphysical consensus." '

from: *The Ballad of Bowsprit Bear's Stead* )

[Yes, I know - the Cretan Liar *isn't* a Godel problem, it's a Russell problem. Would you trust a robot called Marx?]

More seriously, the topic of discursive reframing (which makes a total hash of any `Prime Directive' imaginable) can be pursued in books such as Stanley Fish's reader-response diatribe IS THERE A TEXT IN THIS CLASS? through to my own THEORY AND ITS DISCONTENTS. It's fundamental to Roger Schank's work in AI, too, I'd have thought.

Damien Broderick

Dr Damien Broderick / Associate, Dept. English and Cultural Studies
	University of Melbourne,  Parkville 3052, AUSTRALIA
	Ozlit biography/bibliography listing: