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Robots are terrible at these 3 uniquely human skills



You may have heard that robots are coming for our jobs, or maybe that super-intelligent programs could cause an apocalypse.

But given how today's artificially intelligent programs and robots stack up to humanity, the worst is still far away.

When you look closely, humans still have many advantages over artificial intelligence (AI).

New techniques and approaches are making huge strides in areas where AI traditionally lagged, including cataloging images and understanding language.

But even with these advances, humans remain the masters of these three following skills, likely for a long time.

Using common sense to solve new problems

Human are great at finding parallels they understand to give them insight when confronted with new situations. Toby Walsh, a professor of computer science at the National Information and Communications Technology Australia, calls this ability common-sense reasoning.

It's our ability to "look at objects we've never seen before and apply our common sense to understand how they work and what we need to do," in the situation, Walsh said. This ability has been a historical sticking point for AI researchers.

One example of common sense reasoning would be "if I tip over this cup of water, the water will fall out." Humans can make deductions on why that might be and predict what will happen if the cup tips over, even if it's coins in the cup the next time around instead of water.

But computer programs require very exact specifications of all the objects involved in a scenario to make the same predictions, according to Ernest Davis, a computer scientist at New York University who works on common sense reasoning. That would include the shape of the cup, the motion its being exposed to, the physical properties of whatever is inside, among others.

"People don't need that kind of information — all you need to know is that is a coffee cup and that it's open at the top, that it doesn't have a lid," Davis told Tech Insider.

Feeling emotions and understanding the emotions of others

Emotions and empathy remain one of the most human traits. According to Facebook's AI research director Yann LeCunn, it's not likely that robots would innately to develop any kind of emotion, without it being programmed into them.

"We can build into them altruism and other drives that will make them pleasant for humans to interact with them and be around them," LeCun wrote in an email to Tech Insider. But these kinds of emotions won't appear out of nowhere.

They are also not likely to be able to show genuine empathy and understand the emotions of those they are working with or caring for. There are robots that can recognize emotions out now, like Pepper, a social companion robot that can understand emotions and speak with people.

While Pepper has been programmed to respond emphatically, she doesn't fully understand what humans are feeling. On the other hand, humans feel empathy genuinely, making them better caretakers. That's why nursing is one of the careers least likely to be taken by robots, according to a 2013 Oxford study. Being able to understand the nuances of emotions and feel empathy allows nurses to better care for others.


Artificially intelligent programs can create beautiful hallucinations of photos or mimic a famous artist's style. But making a work of art from scratch that resonates with people will remain a uniquely human skill, at least for now.

Creativity is basically a combination of the two skills above — if you can't apply old knowledge to new situations and can't empathize with other people, you'll have a tough time writing a book that touches readers or paint a landscape that makes museum-goers gasp.

AI are the products of very strict rules and explicit instructions, the exact opposite of creativity, Michael Osbourne, a computer scientist at the University of Oxford, told the Guardian.

"It is certainly possible to design an algorithm that can churn out an endless sequence of paintings, but it is difficult to teach an algorithm the difference between the emotionally powerful and the dreck," Osbourne said.

In the future that might change. For now, artists, actors, and writers can rest assured that no robot will come to take the arts away from them.

As Walsh told Tech Insider, "the artists of the world are for a long time still going to be real physical people."

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