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Governing AI in Companies: Lessons from Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics


As companies increasingly integrate AI into their operations, the question of governance takes centre stage. This conversation is not new; in fact, it echoes concerns first articulated by Isaac Asimov in 1942 through his Three Laws of Robotics. As we venture further into an era where AI's capabilities and impact continue to grow, revisiting Asimov's vision provides valuable insights into how we might shape AI governance today, especially in light of GDPR's Privacy by Design principle.

Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics

Isaac Asimov, a visionary science fiction author, proposed the Three Laws of Robotics as a set of ethical guidelines for the fictional intelligent robots in his stories:

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

  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Asimov's Foresight

Asimov's laws were a response to the typical narrative of robots as threats to humanity. He envisioned a world where robots were integrated into society as helpers, not overlords. This forward-thinking approach was remarkable, considering the limited technology of his time. It stemmed from a deeper understanding of human nature and the ethical implications of creating life-like machines.

Relevance to Modern AI Governance

Asimov's laws, while fictional, offer a foundational perspective on how we might approach AI governance today:

  • Human Safety and Ethical AI: The first law emphasises the importance of AI being designed to prioritise human safety and well-being, aligning with the GDPR's focus on protecting individual's rights and privacy.

  • AI Compliance and Accountability: The second law suggests that AI should be compliant with human directives, unless these directives conflict with ethical norms. This highlights the need for AI systems to be accountable to human oversight and governance frameworks.

  • AI Self-Preservation and Operational Integrity: The third law introduces the concept of AI self-preservation, which can be interpreted as maintaining operational integrity and reliability, essential for ensuring trust in AI systems.

Lessons for Today's AI Landscape

  • Ethical Design and Deployment: Asimov’s laws remind us to embed ethical considerations into AI use, design, development, and deployment processes.

  • Human-Centric AI: Ensuring that AI serves human needs and is governed by human values is critical.

  • Regulatory Compliance: Following legal frameworks, like the GDPR and other AI regulations to come, for AI applications ensures responsible use of technology.

Are We at Risk of AI Managing Humans?

While AI technology has advanced significantly, we are far from the scenario of AI 'managing' humans as depicted in science fiction. Current AI systems lack the consciousness or autonomous willpower that would be required for such a scenario. However, the increasing influence of AI in decision-making processes does raise concerns about AI systems potentially perpetuating biases or making errors that could impact human lives.


As we embrace the rapid growth of AI technology, integrating lessons from Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics can guide us in developing governance frameworks that are ethical, human-centric, and compliant with legal standards. While we are not in a world where robots govern humans, the importance of robust AI governance cannot be overstated. By prioritising human safety, ethical design, and regulatory compliance, we can ensure that AI remains a tool for human benefit, not a threat.

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