Executive Briefings

Sure, Robots Are Handy, But Can They Fold Laundry?

Robert Gordon, an economist at Northwestern University, likes to play a game he calls Find the Robot. As he goes about his everyday life - shopping, traveling through airports - he looks for machines performing tasks that humans once handled. Most of what he sees doesn't impress him.

Sure, Robots Are Handy, But Can They Fold Laundry?

ATMs, self-checkout kiosks, and boarding pass scanners have been around for years. Beyond that, not a lot has changed. "It's very hard for robots to do things that are extremely ordinary for humans," Gordon says. "Turns out that teaching machines to do something like folding laundry is almost impossible."

IBM's supercomputer Watson made history four years ago when it beat two contestants on the quiz show Jeopardy!, yet for most of us artificial intelligence is still the stuff of sci-fi movies. And even though there’s lots of talk about drones and driverless cars, how close are they really to changing how we live? To listen to Gordon, not very. “I see stasis everywhere,” says the scholar, whose new book, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, posits that the U.S. economy’s best days are behind it. “Stasis in the way offices work, stasis in the way retailers work, and stasis in the way factories produce goods.”

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ATMs, self-checkout kiosks, and boarding pass scanners have been around for years. Beyond that, not a lot has changed. "It's very hard for robots to do things that are extremely ordinary for humans," Gordon says. "Turns out that teaching machines to do something like folding laundry is almost impossible."

IBM's supercomputer Watson made history four years ago when it beat two contestants on the quiz show Jeopardy!, yet for most of us artificial intelligence is still the stuff of sci-fi movies. And even though there’s lots of talk about drones and driverless cars, how close are they really to changing how we live? To listen to Gordon, not very. “I see stasis everywhere,” says the scholar, whose new book, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, posits that the U.S. economy’s best days are behind it. “Stasis in the way offices work, stasis in the way retailers work, and stasis in the way factories produce goods.”

Read Full Article

Sure, Robots Are Handy, But Can They Fold Laundry?