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"Beyond a thousand years from now humans are not quite recognizably human, and I have trouble finding characters."
- Larry Niven

Three Laws of Robotics (Rules of Robotics)  
  The original formulation of Asimov's laws of robotics.  

In the story, a robot is seen to be acting peculiarly in a very dangerous place - the surface of Mercury.

Powell's radio voice was tense in Donovan's ear: "Now, look, let's start with the three fundamental Rules of Robotics - the three rules that are built most deeply into a robot's positronic brain." In the darkness, his gloved fingers ticked off each point.

"We have: One, a robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm."

"Right!"

"Two," continued Powell, "a robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law."

"Right!"

"And three, a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws."

From Runaround, by Isaac Asimov.
Published by Street and Smith in 1942
Additional resources -

The explanation for the robot's odd behavior is found in the conflicts between the orders it has been given, and the laws that govern its behavior.

"The conflict between the various rules is ironed out by the different positronic potentials in the brain. We'll say that a robot is walking into danger and knows it. The automatic potential that Rule 3 sets up turns him back. But suppose you order him to walk into that danger. In that case, Rule 2 sets up a counterpotential higher than the previous one and the robot follows orders at the risk of existence..."
So with this robot, Rule 2 drives him forward and Rule 3 drives him back; the robot stays on the locus of points of potential equilibrium. In other words, it gives you the runaround.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Runaround
  More Ideas and Technology by Isaac Asimov
  Tech news articles related to Runaround
  Tech news articles related to works by Isaac Asimov

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