The first robot homicide was committed in
1981, according to my files. I have a yellowed
clipping dated December 9, 1981, from
not the National
the headline “Robot killed
repair-man, Japan reports”.
The story was an anticlimax. At the
Kawasaki Heavy Industries plant in Akashi,
a malfunctioning robotic arm pushed a
repairman against a gearwheel-milling
machine, which crushed him to death. The
repairman had failed to follow instructions
for shutting down the arm before he
entered the workspace. Why, indeed, was
this industrial accident in Japan re-ported
in a Philadelphia newspaper? Every day
somewhere in the world a human worker
is killed by one machine or another. The
difference, of course, was that—in the public
imagination at least—this was no ordinary
This was a robot, a machine that might have
a mind, might have evil intentions, might be
capable, not just of homicide, but of murder.
Anglo-American jurisprudence speaks of
mens rea—literally, the guilty mind:
To have performed a legally prohibited
action, such as killing another human being;
one must have done so with a culpable state
of mind, or mens rea. Such culpable mental
states are of three kinds: they are either
motivational states of purpose, cognitive
states of belief, or the nonmental state of
In May 2001 I attended a conference at the Museum of Science of Barcelona (CosmoCaixa) of which
the title already drew attention “Did HAL Commit Murder?” By Professor Daniel C. Dennett.
This lecture was given 33 years after the release of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece “2001: A Space
Odyssey” (1968) and reflect on ethics, and computers.
Recently I have been in contact with Professor Dennett who has given us
permission to reproduce their work on this issue. For its length, it will publish in
three parts in the next three numbers of the magazine AIQS News.
Today, many news on the development of robots, and the dramatic increase in
the computing power, put all these topical issues.
If you make the effort to put yourself in context of 2001, I hope you enjoy reading
it as much as I did; also in the conference I attended.
Professor Dennett Thank you for sharing it with us.
Did HAL Commit Murder?
By Daniel C. Dennett