Random Musings: The Androids of Karakuri Odette and the Three Laws of Robotics

When you talk about androids in science fiction, it doesn’t take too long for Isaac Asimov and the Three Laws of Robotics to come up. Asimov was an extremely prolific and important author in both fiction (particularly science fiction) and non-fiction. His Three Laws of Robotics form the foundation of most if not all of his robot stories and have been applied by many other creators to their own works. His laws have even been considered and reflected upon while developing robots and artificial intelligences in real life. At first glance, the laws seem fairly clear-cut and simple. However, there’s actually quite a bit of grey area and assumptions involved, which is what makes Asimov’s robot stories so fascinating.

Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics
First Law: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
Second Law: A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Now, I realize it’s kind of silly to apply the rules created by one author to another author’s work. However, Julietta Suzuki never really spells out exactly what the laws are for the androids in Karakuri Odette or if there even are any regulations. Quite a bit can be gleaned from context though and a few of the androids do explicitly indicate whether they have restrictions regarding the harming of humans. So, using the Three Laws of Robotics as a starting point, I’d like to take a closer look at the androids of Karakuri Odette. (Warning: Spoilers up through Volume 5 may be involved.)

Odette (developed by Hiroaki Yoshizawa): Odette is probably the android that most closely adheres to both the spirit and letter of the three laws. Compliant to the First Law, her programming explicitly forbids actions that would harm a human. Throughout Karakuri Odette she is also seen taking deliberate action to protect the well-being of the humans around her. She tends to follow the Second Law, although she may argue or put up a fight when given an order. So far, Odette hasn’t really had to worry about self-preservation much but I think it would be pretty safe to say that she also conforms to the Third Law.

Chris series/Chris No. 2 (developed by Alex Owen): Also known as “Bomb Boys,” this series of androids was specifically created to self-destruct in the presence of a specified target. As designed, the Chris series does not take into consideration bystanders and may cause them injury as well. Obviously, this violates the First Law and causes a tension between the Second and Third since self-destructing and self-preservation can create a conflict.

Chris No. 7 (developed by Alex Owen,  modified by Hiroaki Yoshizawa): Chris No. 7 exhibits unanticipated variations from the Chris series due to faulty programming or some other flaw. He knows he is to self-destruct, but takes steps to protect Odette, who at the time he believes is human, meaning he does follow the First Law to the extent he is able. However, contrary to his programming and the Second Law, he never does self-destruct. Otherwise, he will and does carry out orders given to him. After Yoshizawa’s upgrades Chris No. 7 can be seen to be completely First Law compliant. Chris No. 7 is unique in that he is the only android in Karakuri Odette who is clearly concerned with and actively pursues his own self-preservation.

Chris No. 10 (developed by Alex Owen): Another interesting deviation from the Chris series, Chris No. 10 was unable to successfully complete his original programming due to unforeseen circumstances and is largely left to his own devices. He does end up having to deal with one of the classic First Law conflicts. (Sorry to be vague, but I’m trying not to be too spoilery.) Chris No. 10 is shown to follow orders and the Second Law although his compliance to the Third Law is suspect, something that is somewhat expected for the Chris series.

Asia (developed by M. Nichol): Whether the extraordinary capability of massively creeping out a person counts as an injury to a human or not is up for debate. Otherwise, it would appear that Asia follows all three laws, although too little is known about her to say for sure.

Alice 2500T (developed by Hiroaki Yoshizawa): Technically, Alice is a prototype body that Odette uses while her original body being repaired. She exhibits the same concern that Odette does for others, but she is also capable of getting into scuffles and therefore is probably not completely First Law compliant. She’s also a bit flaky when it comes to the Second and Third Law, but after all she is only a prototype.

Travis (developed by Alex Owen): Almost the complete opposite of Odette, the only law that Travis seems to follow is self-preservation. He specifically states that he has no restrictions against harming humans and is repeatedly seen physically intimidating them. Although he may start by following instructions given to him, in the end he usually ends up doing whatever it is he wants. Since he violates both the First and Second Law, Travis is highly unpredictable and is actually pretty scary, especially as he seems to have a significant attitude problem, too.

Grace (developed by Alex Owen): Grace is equipped with weaponry, but when she uses it in Karakuri Odette she does not cause injury to any of the humans nearby. However, it is implied that she could have and so like Travis probably does not have restrictions in place to prevent this. Grace appears to be compliant to the Second Law, doing what she is told as long as it is an explicit order. She most likely follows the Third Law of self-preservation as well.

So, I readily admit that this exercise was questionable and frivolous, although I don’t think it was completely pointless. Obviously, the Three Laws of Robotics do not apply to Karakuri Odette. But, it did allow me to think about Suzuki’s androids in a structured manner, and I feel like that I’ve gotten to know them better in the process. Upon close examination, it doesn’t appear that there are any overarching laws when it comes to the androids in Karakuri Odette. However, individual creators seem to have their own styles and self-imposed rules. And on that note: will someone please stop Alex Owen from designing robots?

This post is part of the Karakuri Odette Manga Moveable Feast.

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  1. I think a lot of the Asimov influence in manga comes from Tezuka’s take on the robot laws in Astro Boy. It’s interesting to see what new insights pop up in manga, outside of what has come before in mostly masculine western sci fi.

  2. Surprisingly enough, knowing my love of both androids an manga, I haven’t actually read much Astro Boy. However, I suspect that you may be right. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. If you’re anything like me, it can sometimes be hard to get into those sacred cows like Astro Boy. Even if it really is the greatest book ever, I really hate feeling like I’m forced to think so while reading.

    I’ve been keeping up with your blog for a while, actually. I like how relaxed and open-minded you are about everything; I tend to rant too much, so I’ve tried to stay quiet, haha.

  4. It’s nice to know I have a regular reader; I hope you continue to enjoy! I tend to lurk on other people’s blogs more than I comment on them, myself.

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