“The state of Massatucky has long insisted that marriage is between two consenting adult humans or robots. We’ve upheld earlier court findings and obeyed federal regulations.” The lawyer pressed his fingers down on the papers beneath him. “It is our opinion that the fourteenth amendment protects this practice, as was shown in the 2058 Supreme Court ruling allowing it.”
“And the Microtech Robotics Company stipulates that these marriages are, by their very nature, non-consensual. The laws of robotics make them so.”
The judges looked to each other. The right to robot marriage was enacted in ’58, just like the state lawyer said, and no one had heard any complaints – save this one – in the twenty years since. One crossed her arms and squinted the Microtech lawyer. “Explain this to us, Mr. Kimura.”
Mr. Kimura nodded demurely and took out his papers. “Survey results show the rates of happiness in marriages between one human and one robot, regardless of other sexual preferences, far outstrip the happiness in any other arrangement. In the twenty years following legalization, my client was the first robot to request a divorce…”
“Mrs. Wilson, what were you thinking?”
The robot, female by structure and choice, looked to her thighs. “I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t realize it would cause you so much unhappiness. I was just doing what I thought best, sir.”
The small-town lawyer, Mr. Juarez, scratched his head. “You came in here asking for a divorce, and when your husband brought it to court, you told the judge you didn’t want it anymore. It’s not been 10 minutes, and you’re asking me to try again?”
She put her hand, covered in peachy silicon, forward on his desk. “Oh, please Mr. Juarez, I tried my best. I gave you all the evidence you’d need to show that I must get a divorce. Please, Mr. Juarez, you’ve got to make this happen.”
He pursed his lips. “Show me your registration papers. I’m going to call your company first, make sure you’re not full of bugs.”
Mr. Kimura looked over the call from the small-time lawyer in Massatucky. Repeatedly, Mrs. Wilson’s brain had been scanned and showed no abnormalities. Her model had gone through few recalls, and all faulty parts had been replaced on this housewife. She wanted a divorce, according to her lawyer, Mr. Juarez, but would deny her own wish when she went to court.
Microtech had long positied its creations were people equivalent to the humans that built them. To allow a robot, even one as low-ranked as Mrs. Wilson, to provably suffer at the hands of her human companion, was against policy. Robot health insurance was, after all, the most lucrative arm of the company, and a robot’s denial of rights was the first step on a slippery slope toward removing their personhood. He would protect her rights and, thus, the company’s value.
With his corporate resources, Mr. Kimura looked into previous robot divorce proceedings. Plenty of material was available, and as with most robot dealings, the splitting of couples was amicable. But then, something intrigued him: all of the proceedings had been initiated by the human member.
He called Mr. Juarez and requested an audience with Mrs. Wilson.
Mr. Kimura, convinced Mrs. Wilson wanted her divorce, sent her back with Mr. Juarez to perform the proceedings again. He was confused, then, why the same results happened again a second time.
He plopped some papers down on a desk. “Thank you for agreeing to help, Dr. Ngom. I hope you’ve had a chance to look over this predicament?”
The robopsychologist nodded and pushed her glasses closer to her face. “I have. It’s a wonder no one’s thought of it before.”
“That simple, Dr.?”
She nodded. “When she applies for a divorce, it’s obvious she’s defaulting to the third law – self preservation. You’ve seen the evidence that staying in her house is going to get her killed.”
“But then why does she foil her own attempts to escape? Mr. Juarez strongly instructed her what to say, and she had directions. The second law, compelling her to follow human directions, should have made certain she followed through.”
“The first law compels her to act this way, Mr. Kimura.” Dr. Ngom pointed to his papers. “She’s trying to avoid harming her husband, regardless of whether he deserves it or not.”
“But she’s harming mine and Mr. Juarez’s credibility by doing so!”
The robopsychologist nodded. “She’s weighing that. What’s devious about this situation is how the first and third laws form a feedback loop in her brain. With you and Mr. Juarez, you have a finite loss associated with her case. With Mr. Wilson, his value becomes almost infinite.”
“Why is that?”
Dr. Ngom showed Mr. Kimura a statement from Mrs. Wilson. “She says here that making him happy allows her to go ‘unpunished.’ By preventing Mr. Wilson from coming to harm, either physical or psychological, either perceived or real, Mrs. Wilson increased her chances of survivability. Her survival increased Mr. Wilson’s happiness, which would then increase her chance of survival, and so on. She wore that path into her mind so fully that Mr. Wilson’s happiness causes a positive feeback loop.”
Mr. Kimura nodded. “So when she gets to court, when she can see whether or not Mr. Wilson is made happier by her actions, the value of his wellbeing overwhelms the value of any other.”
Mr. Kimura scratched his head. “So… by this logic, what allows a robot to say no to a proposal? Doesn’t saying ‘no’ cause immense psychological harm to the asker?”
Dr. Ngom nodded. “That’s exactly what I wanted you to ask.”
“So you see,” Mr. Kimura argued, “The robot has no method of escaping a bad situation, nor does it have the ability to deny entering in the first place. Microtech argues that robots are, by design, incapable of giving consent to marriage.”
The judge nodded. “And what ever happened to Mrs. Wilson?”
“She was found, deactivated, in ’76, sir. Her body was scrapped in ’77. It’s taken eight years for the case to find its way to the supreme court, sir, and there was plenty of time for Mr. Wilson to violently destroy her.”
The judge banged the gavel. “This court upholds the previous findings, and the state of Massatucky is to continue providing licensure for human-robot couples. The personal rights of humans and robots must, by the fourteenth amendment, include marriage.”
Mr. Kimura, furious, stood from his chair. “This robot was murdered – as has many other robots! How can you do this? How can you ignore their plight?”
One of the judges squinted. “What makes you think that humans don’t develop those same feedback loops? Where if you do the right thing, the spouse will love you more, which will extend your own life, which can give you the chance to make it all better? It’s an age old problem, one that getting rid of marriage fails to solve.” He banged his gavel. “Court is adjourned.”
This story is intended to explore Asimov’s three laws of robotics and the boundaries of human interactions with robots following those rules. It is in no way intended to specify any political leanings with regard to the 2015 court case Obergefell v. Hodges or any opinions on same-sex marriage or relationships.