Coronavirus and the Three Laws of Robotics

Is inaction better than action if either outcome will cause harm?

Pete Lead
7 min readAug 13, 2020
A cute little robot figurine.
Photo by Everyday basics on Unsplash

Way back in the 1940’s, science fiction writer Isaac Asimov started developing his Three Laws of Robotics through a series of short stories and novels. These Laws are hard-wired in the robots’ brains, and the stories explored situations in which these laws would apply in different ways, and sometimes in conflict with each other.

The First Law, the most important in the hierarchy, is:

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

The bit about inaction is relevant. Because of the First Law robots are compelled to prevent harm; they must take positive action, not stand idly by. A robot would (gently) smack that donut right out of your hands then delete your Facebook account.

The Trolley Problem

Photo by Guilherme Stecanella on Unsplash

“There is a runaway train rolling down the tracks. There are 5 railway workers standing on the tracks in its path.



Pete Lead

I work with startups, teach entrepreneurship, and freelance in improv and leadership coaching.