All Bets Are Off: The Laws of Robotics in Turbo Kid
Turbo Kid filled me with a glee I have not felt in a very long time: it had cheesy, synthesizer-driven music, hokey special effects, and a great deal more heart than budget. I adored it. Aside from the retro, love song-style charm it contained, it also managed to get me thinking. More specifically, it got me thinking about the laws of robotics, and how the robots in the film seem to sidestep the rules when convenient.
|Made of win.|
Robots can’t hurt humans, either directly or indirectly.
Robots have to obey orders given by humans, unless if those orders mean that a human will be harmed.
If this violates rule number one, it’s null and void.
Robots have to keep themselves alive, unless if such an action would violate rules one and two.
Got it? Good. Onward with our show. Let’s review these one by one.
The first one is the big one. This one goes right out the window with Zeus (Michael Ironside), who holds death matches in The Pool in order to entertain his minions. The majority of Zeus’s actions against humans are indirect: he is more than content to let Skeletron (Edwin Wright) do the dirty work for him, whether it’s cutting off Frederick (Aaron Jeffrey)’s hand or slicing and dicing The Kid (Munro Chambers)’s parents. He shoots Frederick with the intention of killing him at the climax of the film, has Bagu disembowled, and tries to kill The Kid a few different times, demonstrating his need to wipe out life that opposes him. His words match his aggressive behavior, as he tells Skeletron at one point, “Find them. Kill them. Bring me back their heads on pikes.” Pretty explicit harm to humans, even though it’s not by his hand. By all means, Zeus should not be able to do this: he should be accepting orders and working to ensure the safety of the humans, not playing King of the Water Resources. Or the role of the torturous Roman emperor, for that matter.
|Zeus is the Honey Badger of the post-apocolyptic world.|
Again, Zeus doesn’t follow this rule at all. I’m not even going to bother making a case for this one using Zeus because I’d just be rehashing the movie.The one we need to talk about, though, is Laurence Leboeuf’s Apple.
For the most part, Apple obeys everything The Kid tells her to do: she fights when she needs to, and she moves to leave his home when he asks her to do so. However, there’s a caveat to Apple’s actions that corresponds to the second law of robotics: unless if those orders mean that a human will be harmed. Let’s not forget, our good Apple (see what I did there?) beats the ever living shit out of people in The Pool. She also kills the female guard who is strangling The Kid at the climax of the film. It may seem complex, but according to the rules, Apple shouldn’t be raising her hand to harm anyone because everyone in these situations is human (save for Zeus); at the most, she should be sacrificing herself to save The Kid, not fighting and/or killing others. She could have remained within the rules and helped save The Kid by dying long before she actually bites it. Now maybe I’m having a slow day, but this seems to violate the first rule of robotics, which means that our sweet girl is a renegade robot. You can dress her up with makeup and a winsome smile, but she still hurts people, to the point of killing someone with a spike on a bike. Yes, it may be just because she’s keeping The Kid alive, but she’s still in violation of the laws of robotics because a human is a human is a human if we’re playing by the rules. As much as we like Apple, she’s just as guilty.
Rule #3: Robots have to keep themselves alive
Zeus has a good handle on this; he wants to keep going, but again, we get violation because, while he tries to defend himself from the attacks of The Kid, he still rears up and tries to kill The Kid, which violates the first rule and the third rule. It’s sort of sucky that self defense doesn’t count to keep yourself alive, but I wasn’t the one that made up the rules. Live by the sword, die by the sword. It’s a technicality that we’d overlook for someone like, say, Apple; however, it’s more apparent with the villain of the piece.
Apple’s not out of the woods on this one either. There’s a simple conversation that’s had when The Kid realizes that she’s a robot: she explains that once her heart meter is done with the last heart, she shuts down forever. After saying this, it’s important to note that The Kid is the one that goes looking for a replacement part in order to save her, which leads them to Bagu directing them to the robot graveyard. It’s The Kid that makes this effort, not her; for all intents and purposes, Apple is content to give up and die. She’s very Zen about it, and even gives a little shrug for emphasis as she smiles. For her, it’s a simple shrug of the shoulders rather than a maxim of life. As much as I hate to point it out, she’s violating these rules just as badly as Zeus.
|Not entirely sure I’d trust this face.|
While we’re presented with the opposite ends of the spectrum – one good, one bad – both archetypes present clear violations of Asimov’s rules. Yes, Zeus is far more harmful toward other humans, but Apple is just as deviant from the laws set forth. If going strictly by the rules, one could deduce that she is as bad as Zeus for assuming points of autonomy that could one day prove harmful. And so that is the question we’re left with: even if the deviations run along the lines of temporarily helping the good guy, should we trust something that functions outside of its nature?