Pluto: Exploring Robotics Law Through the Lens of Science Fiction

By Savannah Thorneberry

Robota is a Czech word meaning ‘forced labor,’ from this word, the common term ‘robot’ was born.[1] The term ‘robot’ owes its origins to Czech playwright Karel Capek who, in 1920, created the hit science fiction play Rossum’s Universal Robots.[2] The play depicts robots who are identical to humans in all aspects, minus a soul; without a soul, they lacked the ability to feel and have emotions the way humans do.[3] In media, robots are often portrayed as companions to humans.[4] While robots are not human, the advancement of robotic technology has prompted the discussion of what it means to be human, a question that science fiction and media have long grappled with.[5] Given the ambiguity around AI and robotics and the laws that regulate it, looking to media, specifically science fiction, can provide insights on a range of moral and ethical considerations as to how these laws might be shaped as technology continues to rapidly advance.

Pluto, a 2023 Netflix original anime, which was adapted from the 2003 sci-fi manga series of the same name, tackles the question of how the law might adapt to address the advancements in technology and the ethical dilemmas they present.[6] The manga was a reinterpretation of the beloved classic Astro Boy, which first release as a manga in 1952 and as an anime in 1963.[7] Pluto tells the story of an android police detective named Gesicht from Europol who is trying to uncover the truth about a series of mysterious deaths of the seven most powerful war robots in the world.[8] The show focuses on the aftermath and rebirth of society post the ‘Central Asian War.’ The storyline heavily alludes to the United States’ invasion of the Middle East under the pretense that they were in possession of weapons of mass destruction. The story poses an alternate reality where weapons of mass destruction are not nuclear but sentient robots that exist across the world, serving as both tools of destruction and technological beings with emotions and thoughts. Many of the episodes and characters, human and androids alike, wrestle with the emptiness of war and unraveling the emotions that follow.[9]

The androids in Pluto are bound by and granted rights under the International Robot Laws.[10] These laws align with the three laws of robotics, a set of laws introduced by science fiction author Isaac Asimov and used in many science fiction books and films today.[11] First, robots are not allowed to kill human beings, second, robots must obey orders by human beings, and third, robots may protect themselves so long as it does not conflict with the first two laws.[12] While shows like Terminator or the battle droids in Star Wars show a stark contrast between human beings and the seemingly emotionless unfeeling robots, Pluto depicts robots as practically indistinguishable from humans. From the first episode, androids are shown having spouses, homes, jobs, dreams, and feelings. Upon learning of the loss of her robot husband, Robby, the robot wife is shown on the verge of tears.[13] Similarly, despite there being no reason for robots to eat and drink, there are countless scenes of robots consuming food or drinking tea in order to understand what it means to taste as they try to understand humanity and human emotion.[14]

Similarly, one of the seven androids created for war finds himself as a butler to a once famous pianist. Despite the owner and only resident of the house being blind, the android hides his body with a cloak due to the shame he feels towards his intended creation.[15] The android also comes to have a desire to play the piano and expresses his deep sadness over his past killing other robots, which is highlighted in the famous pianist’s discovery that robots can have nightmares.[16] The show challenges the current perception as the line between what makes humans wholly distinct and deserving of rights as compared to robots becomes blurred. The show challenges viewers to consider whether technology can reach sentience and is deserving of the same rights afforded to human beings.

The androids are depicted wrestling with a wide range of emotions from happiness and sadness to even hate. Gesicht is shown to be visibly angry at the discovery of Robby being thrown in the trash after his death and a human trash collector calling his remains “junk.”[17] Most notably, despite programming and laws prohibiting harm to humans there are several instances of human deaths at the hands of robots, including the main villain Pluto. While the realm of science fiction has a plethora of books and films tackling human interaction with advanced technology and the moral implications and laws that inevitably follow suit, Pluto challenges our perception of what it means to be human and how robotics law could be in the future. Science fiction has been dubbed the final frontier of law, tackling the legal discourse of technological issues before they are at the world’s doorstep.[18] While science fiction is not a reflection of reality or a blueprint for legal frameworks, it provides valuable insights into potential directions for legislation centered around AI and robotics. As the world begins to grapple with the ethical and legal implications of AI and robotics, science fiction narratives are increasingly resembling reality, turning speculative concepts into tangible considerations.

The androids in Pluto vividly portray the complexities of human emotions, challenging conventional perceptions of artificial beings and the laws that govern them. Despite the portrayal of robots grappling with emotions and the consequences of their actions, real-world efforts towards regulating technological advancements are gaining momentum. Countries around the world have begun making considerations for how to regulate technological advancements. While there are currently no federal laws in the U.S. that specifically address AI and robotics, states have been making efforts to pass legislation on the topic. In 2023, ” at least 25 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia introduced artificial intelligence bills, and 18 states and Puerto Rico adopted resolutions or enacted legislation.”[19]

As of March 2024, The European Union has officially adopted the AI Act, which was first proposed five years ago.[20] The goal of the AI Act is to help guide the trajectory of AI towards prioritizing human control over new technology and leveraging their advancements to drive new discoveries through governance over these new technologies.[21] Given the recent adoption of the AI Act, the first law of its kind, in March 2024, there remains a considerable journey ahead in the development of both artificial intelligence and robotics, as well as the legislation that regulates their use.

Regulations on AI and robotics is a new frontier. New and refined regulations will continue to grow and adapt as the landscape continues to evolve. Amidst this uncertainty, science fiction narratives may provide valuable insights. It is imperative that the development and use of AI and robotics is governed by regulations that ensure accountability and ethical standards and “not left to roboticists that dream of electric sheep.”[22]






Image Source: Netflix’s Pluto anime ending explained | ONE Esports

[1] Science Diction: The Origin Of The Word ‘Robot’, NPR (Apr. 22, 2011),,in%20forced%20labor%20or%20service.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Naomi Lintvedt, Do the Manga Robots Astro Boy and Doraemon Shape the Law of Robotics, The Digital Constitutionalist (last visited Apr. 12, 2024),

[5] Christine A. Corcos, Cyborgs, Replicants, and Other Human/Artificial “Hybrids” in Science Fiction and Law, The Digital Constitutionalist (last visited Apr. 12, 2024),

[6] Sandra Bouguerra, ‘Pluto’: Netflix’s dark anime adaptation challenges our perception of AI psychology, Culturius magazine (Dec. 14, 2023),

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Nathan Goldwag, Pluto: The Emptiness of War, Goldwag’s Journal on Civilization (Jan. 1, 2024),

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] PLUTO: Episode 1 NETFLIX at 11:13.

[14] Id. at 11:40.

[15] Id. at 32:55.

[16] Id. at 40:16 and 50:46.

[17] Id. at 21:00.

[18] Chris Bavitz, et. al, Ethics and Governance of AI and Robotics, Berkman Klein Center (December 2018) at 4; Marco Almada, The Final Frontier: Science Fiction at the Service of the Law, The Digital Constitutionalist (Jan. 23, 2022),

[19] Artificial Intelligence  2023 Legislation, ncsl (Updated January 12, 2024),

[20] Kelvin Chan, Europe’s world-first AI rules get final approval from lawmakers. Here’s what happens next, AP News (Mar. 13, 2024),; see generally The EU Artificial Intelligence Act, Future of Life Institute (Last accessed May 11, 2024),

[21] Id.

[22] Lintvedt, supra note 4.