As movie-goers flock to the theatres to see the recently-released futuristic thriller I, Robot, ethical behaviour in artificial intelligence (AI) is getting a boost with a new patent issued last month by the U.S Patent and Trademark Office.

The patent, Inductive Inference Affective Language Analyzer Simulating AI (# 6,587,846) introduces the concept of the Ten Ethical Laws of Robotics. According to a statement from inventor John LaMuth, the patent represents “the first AI system incorporating ethical/motivational terms, enabling a computer to reason and speak ethically, serving in roles specifying sound human judgment.”

The Ten Ethical Laws expand upon Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, an idea found in his book, I, Robot, published in 1950, which this summer’s movie is based upon. The movie is set in Chicago in the year 2035, where robots are part of everyday life and everyone trusts them, except one slightly paranoid detective (played by Will Smith). He investigates what he alone believes is a crime perpetrated by a robot. The case leads him to discover a far more frightening threat to the human race.

Asimov’s laws state that a robot may not injure a human or, through inaction, allow a human to come to harm; it must obey orders humans give it except where such orders would conflict with the first law; and it must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second law.

According to LaMuth’s statement, Asimov’s laws don’t quite cut it. “This cursory system of safeguards…remains simplistic in its dictates, leaving open the specific details for implementing such a system.” But the Ten Ethical Laws remedy that shortcoming, he said, because they are written as a “formal mandate,” focusing on virtues to the necessary exclusion of corresponding vices.

More here.