A robot walks into a bar and says, “I’ll have a screwdriver.” A bad joke, indeed. But even less funny if the robot says “Give me what’s in your cash register.”
The fictional theme of robots turning against humans is older than the word itself, which first appeared in the title of Karel Čapek’s 1920 play about artificial factory workers rising against their human overlords. Just 22 years later, Isaac Asimov invented the “Three Laws of Robotics” to serve as a hierarchical ethical code for the robots in his stories: first, never harm a human being through action or inaction; second, obey human orders; last, protect oneself. From the first story in which the laws appeared, Asimov explored their inherent contradictions. Great fiction, but unworkable theory.