While sophisticated humanoid robots have long been a staple of science fiction fantasy, how about some science fact? Move away from sci-fi and the sad truth is that even the most cutting-edge of today’s robots would be hard pressed to lace their own shoes let alone be mistaken for humans.
This is Moravec’s paradox.1 We may have supercomputers able to diagnose diseases, perform billions of mind-bogglingly complex calculations in fractions of a second and wipe the floor with the best of the world’s human chess players, but when it comes to the more mundane stuff that we all take for granted robots often fall flat (in many cases, literally).
Many economists and IT futurists worry that robotics could render a lot of routine, manual jobs obsolete. But Moravec’s paradox gives us pause: maybe some of the more dextrous, if routine jobs will be harder to eliminate.
Or we may find new niches in which robots can never replace the human touch. Perhaps, we might even find the bigger threat is to skilled, non-routine jobs, where the march of artificial intelligence is yet to be fully felt. The world of work is set to change dramatically in the next few decades, but perhaps in surprising ways it’s very hard to predict now.
To learn more about Moravec’s paradox and other thought experiments in economics and investing access our full report: Curves and paradoxes.
Shamik Dhar, chief economist, BNY Mellon Investment Management.
1After Hans Peter Moravec a scientist at the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University. In Moravec’s words: “It is comparatively easy to make computers exhibit adult level performance on intelligence tests or playing checkers, and difficult or impossible to give them the skills of a one-year-old when it comes to perception and mobility.”