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"It is difficult to imagine productive activities that cannot be automated—mining, construction, many medical services, house cleaning: the list goes on and on." Actually, it's easy to imagine for one who understands the enormous problems involved. As Steven Pinker has pointed out, when it comes to building robots with human-like ability, the "easy" problems are the hard problems. It's actually easier to make a robot that can replace a hip than one that can clean the bathroom. A little imagination can help us see why. For instance, the robot scrubber has to answer the question "is that dirt" (in which case I should keep scrubbing), or "is that a speckle that is part of the aesthetic composition of the tile" (in which case I should stop scrubbing)? The image of a road can relatively easily be converted into lines, and GPS-like coordinates can tell a machine where to drill a hole to screw in a new hip, but deciding what's dirt from a stream of 1's and 0's is far more difficult. What we consider "low-level" jobs aren't low-level from a robot-design standpoint, and many of what we consider high-skill jobs can be done by machines.
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Jan 20, 2014