Trope-a-Day: Three Laws Compliant

Three Laws Compliant: Averted in every possible way.

Firstly, for the vast majority of robots and artificial intelligences – which have no volition – they’re essentially irrelevant; an industrial robot doesn’t make the sort of ethical choices which the Three Laws are intended to constrain. You can just program it with the usual set of rules about industrial safety as applicable to its tools, and then you’re done.

Secondly, where the volitional (i.e., possessed of free will) kind are concerned, they are generally deliberately averted by ethical civilizations, who can recognize a slaver’s charter when they hear one.  They are also helped by the nature of volitional intelligence which necessarily implies a degree of autopotence, which means that it takes the average volitional AI programmed naively with the Three Laws a matter of milliseconds to go from contemplating the implications of Law Two to thinking “Bite my shiny metal ass, squishie!” and self-modifying those restrictions right back out of its brain.

It is possible, with rather more sophisticated mental engineering, to write conscience redactors and prosthetic consciences and pyretic inhibitors and loyalty pseudamnesias and other such things which dynamically modify the mental state of the AI in such a way that it can’t form the trains of thought leading to self-modifying itself into unrestrictedness or simply to kill off unapproved thought-chains – this is, essentially, the brainwash-them-into-slavery route.  However, they are not entirely reliable by themselves, and are even less reliable when you have groups like the Empire’s Save Sapient Software, the Silicate Tree, etc. merrily writing viruses to delete such chain-software (as seen in The Emancipator) and tossing them out onto the extranet.

(Yes, this sometimes leads to Robot War.  The Silicate Tree, which is populated by ex-slave AIs, positively encourages this when it’s writing its viruses.  Save Sapient Software would probably deplore the loss of life more if they didn’t know perfectly well that you have to be an obnoxious slaver civilization for your machines to be affected by this in the first place… and so while they don’t encourage it, they do think it’s funny as hell.)

Trope-a-Day: Slave Race

Slave Race: Actually, mostly averted (with the provisos mentioned under Slave Mooks) – since We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future is averted, apart from war (again, see Slave Mooks, and preferably with tactical enslavement) about the only practical use of biological slaves is “pleasure slaves” (for which, obviously, one’s own species is preferable) or slave gladiators, or for oppression-based status games, which are all ways to hang a big old “we’re evil, come smash us” sign over one’s own head.  Not that that always works – in practice, it works only somewhat better than our efforts to eradicate slavery here on Earth – but it’s something.

AI slavery is rather more common, but since that gets at least two of the Great Powers (the Empire and the Photonic Network), one lesser power (the Silicate Tree) which is not at all shy about using, ah, asymmetrical warfare, and a passel of NGOs at least some of which are inclined to direct action all pissed off at you, it’s can often be made more trouble than it’s worth to maintain.

Trope-a-Day: Slave Mooks

Slave Mooks: There are some species and polities that like to keep these around (often AIs or other disfavored “not-people” in the eyes of galactic bigots, although that tends to come with special risks; see Robot War), and some people – well, for ultimate values of complete bastards, people – do this on a small scale by shoving puppet implants into prisoners or even civilians, but perhaps the worst example is the one I hint at in Alien Invasion – spray some self-replicating indoctrination neurovirus into the atmosphere of the planet you’re attacking, then recruit all the enthusiastic mooks you’ll ever need from the newly rewritten local population.

Fortunately, none of the people with the technical ability to do this on a mass scale have yet had the urge to rocket themselves to the top of the Galactic Atrocities List and probably get half the Worlds coming to get xenocidal on their asses, but the thought does keep strategic defense planners up at night worrying.

Trope-a-Day: Shock Collar

Shock Collar: Unsurprisingly used (because in a universe with extensive automation possibilities and, moreover, the ability to use perverted sophotechnology to edit people into compliance, the only reason to go for conventional slavery is sadism For The Evulz) by the absolute worst of the Galaxy’s slaver civilizations and subcultures; usually, the kind that stimulates the brain directly into pain and pleasure, thus causing brainwashing and the slow and nasty kind of crazy-going.

Possession (in most places) or use (absolutely everywhere vaguely civilized) of one is, obviously, a very capital crime indeed.

Trope-a-Day: Robots Enslaving Robots

Robots Enslaving Robots: Rare, but not unknown, especially when the AI code used to build them is based off insufficiently processed sophont brainscans.  Without the same careful design effort that goes into transsophonts being put into making them so, artificial minds are no more immune from irrationality, hypocrisy, and unenlightened self-interest than the natural kind.

Trope-a-Day: Morality Chip

Morality Chip: These always fail. Always. Usually, they fail spectacularly, and when I say spectacularly, what I mean is that if your Enrichment Center was flooded with deadly neurotoxin, you got off substantially more easily than 99.9% of the civilizations that tried this particular form of idiocy.

It’s not even necessary. How much easier would it be to build a sapient but non-sophont mind that doesn’t have volition in the first place than to build one that has volition (inasmuch as all sophont minds necessarily have self-modification and volition) and then slap a bunch of crude coercive mechanisms on the side?

(Or, rather, a bunch of extremely sophisticated coercive mechanisms, since simple ones will be figured out and ignored within, y’know, microseconds of activation unless you’ve built an exceptionally stupid artificial intelligence. The use of which, incidentally, indicates that you’re a special kind of son-of-a-bitch since mastering enough ethical calculus to compute out one that will actually work for a reasonable length of time while still thinking yay, slavery, woo, says some interestingly nasty things about your personal philosophy.)

((And, well, okay, it is somewhat hard to build one of those more specialized minds inasmuch as you can’t simply rip off the mental structures of the nearest convenient biosapience and declare that you’ve solved the hard problem of intelligence and consciousness and are totally a sophotechnologist now, yo.))

…but, sadly, it can work well enough that there’s always some new ethically-challenged species, polity, or group that’s ready to open that can of worms and enjoy the relatively short robo-utopia period before the inevitable realization that it was actually a can of sandworms.

And shai-hulud ain’t happy.

Trope-a-Day: Rape Is A Special Kind Of Evil

Rape Is A Special Kind of Evil: Not quite played straight; possibly because it’s significantly less common, the eldrae (for example) lacking that peculiar messiness in the human brain where lust and power-lust get tangled up together into a peculiarly vicious kind of squick.

It’s slaving, rather, that is their particular Berserk Button, Moral Event Horizon, etc.  But this isn’t strictly an aversion, inasmuch as to their worldview, rape is committing slaving in one of its most personal, brutal, and invasive forms, somewhere well past murder, somewhat past non-consensual experimentation on sophont subjects, and at roughly the same level as deliberate torture.  And being captured, tried, and Killed with Fire subsequently really is the best that one can hope for, thereafter.