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Can you ask/instruct a robot on shabbos to perform melacha on your behalf? Would this fall under the same category as amirah l'akum?

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@msh210 I agree, though I support having them in the same question, as the second is potentially a detail of the first. –  Isaac Moses Dec 7 '12 at 16:19
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How is this different from using a timer or pushing a button? –  Double AA Dec 7 '12 at 16:47
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what @DoubleAA said. If we really want to go sci-fi, the question could spill out into "is a sentient android considered human for the purposes of agency in the Torah". It must be Friday. –  yitznewton Dec 7 '12 at 17:00
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Related and possible duplicate: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/10358 –  HodofHod Dec 7 '12 at 17:39
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@nikmasi How is speaking to the robot to make it do something any different from pressing buttons to make it do something? –  Ariel Dec 7 '12 at 21:27
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3 Answers 3

Rabbi Feinstein writes (Iggerot Moshe, Orach Chaim 4:60) that use of timers to automatically regulate machines to perform work forbidden to Jews on Shabbat is generally forbidden, with the exception of turning on and off lights. He believes that use of timers would severely disrupt the Shabbat atmosphere, since all of one’s work could be performed by machines. Rabbi Feinstein asserts that just as the Sages did not want, and therefore forbade our asking, non-Jews to perform work on our behalf on Shabbat for fear that this would disrupt the Shabbat atmosphere (see Rambam, Hilchot Shabbat 6:1) so too the Sages would not want machines to do work on our behalf during Shabbat. Rabbi Feinstein appears to be the lone authority to adopt this approach. 1

The consensus of authorities permits setting timers before Shabbat. It is similarly permissible to allow a website to sell goods on one's behalf on Shabbat.2

Apparently the consensus is that causing machines to work for us on Shabbat is not under the prohibition of amirah l'akum (instructing Gentiles). However, the use of a robot on Shabbat may still be forbidden for other reasons. For example, if it employs a microphone to listen for instructions, there are cases when use of a microphone is allowed, such as in hearing aids (Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchato, vol. 1, 34), and other cases in which it is forbidden, such as for recording or amplifying a performance (ibid. vol. 1, 28).

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Robots exist now that can act based on voice instructions. You can't tell such a robot to do melacha for you just like you can't indirectly cause any melacha. Additionally, we normally assume using electric devices is assur, and you are directly activating to one.

Ignoring the electric issue, what if the robots developed more advanced AI's so it was a separate agent which made your act of speaking less directly connected to the action it performed?

The gemara states one can acquire an animal by calling it to you (so it walks 4 amos), but not an eved, since it comes on it own free will. Assumably, a robot will be more like an animal since it is unlikely to have human-like free will. If the case by kinyan is parallel to shabbos, it should be assur to cause (through speech) animals or robots to do melacha on shabbos.

Also, it would definitely go against the spirit of shabbos, but probably is not included in amirah l'akum.

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Are you suggesting that the robot would do a melacha for you on a gramma theory (i.e. indirectly)? Perhaps I could accept that on a yom tov, but on Shabbos? Under that theory, could I buy a "clapper" device for my lights and turn them on and off indirectly by clapping my hands? I would think that machines, robots included, are limited to the same extent as an eved with regard to performing melachas on Shabbos. Also, I don't think that you can compare kinyan with an animal to melacha since the Torah commands us to rest our animals on Shabbos. –  Bruce James Jan 8 '13 at 17:12
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Robots have no free will (just like animals) and I remember seeing a Teshuva which says you can't tell animals to do Melacha for you on Shabbat.

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A teshuva? How about a pasuk? –  Double AA Feb 20 '13 at 4:19
    
Oops! There was some special exception in the Teshuva that made it special. –  Hacham Gabriel Feb 20 '13 at 4:40
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