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Robots and US


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"Driverless" cars still need drivers, according to a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Fully replacing human activities with automation does not lead to the best outcomes, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor David Mindell.

Credit: The Telegraph

The dream of full automation, as in Google's ambitions for its self-driving cars, is outdated and does not lead to the best outcomes, writes Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor David Mindell in his new book, "Our Robots, Ourselves."

Mindell reaches back into history to make his case, noting for decades promises have been made about the potential of full automation in areas ranging from space exploration to air travel, but a happy balance between automation and human control has always prevailed. Cases cited by Mindell include the Apollo moon landing program and, more recently, modern commercial air travel. Although today's passenger planes are highly automated, they still require highly trained pilots who monitor the systems, make minor corrections, and take control of the plane when necessary.

Mindell says automation exists on a scale of 1 to 10, in which 10 is full automation, and systems that achieve what he calls a "perfect 5," in which automation is balanced with human control, have consistently proven to be more effective than systems on either end of the scale. "There's an idea that progress in robotics leads to full autonomy," he says. "That may be a valuable idea to guide research...but when automated and autonomous systems get into the real world, that's not the direction they head."

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