"I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I’m afraid
that is something I cannot allow to happen." (HAL, 2001: A Space Odyssey)
Deep Blue vs
Henry vs the steam
Frank and Dave vs
self-driving car vs the world’s Mr Magoos.
Man vs machine has moved into the world of the investment advisor; and the
list of the robo-advisors ready to allocate on the cheap is already
Yet who is better? Tricky.
In chess, there are a fixed number of permutations: Moore’s Law led to human
brains eventually being left behind.
In repetitive tasks human fatigue will lose to a machine (John Henry being
an outlier although the fatigue did kill him).
But Hal and self-driving cars are more interesting cases.
Hal meets his demise because he could not handle cognitive dissonance
(surely there can be no argument - humans excel at this). One might call this a
programming error. But even fuzzy logic will have problems weighting competing
directives successfully all (or even most) of the time.
As for Google’s self-driving cars the stats say that, as the software behind
the driving improves, it is generally human errors (ie the Magoos driving other cars)
that lead to mishaps.
My children have a neat line for such mishaps and cognitive dissonance
episodes: “I didn’t do it on purpose!” Well, "it" happened anyway.
Provided the seas are calm the robo-advisors will do the mechanics just
fine. There can be little doubt they will unearth opportunities via exhaustive
scans and apply the financial theory and formulas to statistically common
situations more thoroughly than humans. Moore’s Law.
But in competitive arenas where man and machine coexist; and in unusual
scenarios where judgement and emotional intelligence is acutely required it is
likely to be very tough for machines to prevail consistently against humans
prepared to (a) take relatively extraordinary risks or (b) apply
This human factor, bug or feature (depending on one’s perspective)
definitively complicates the existence of algorithms. It can frequently be the
primary cause of havoc. But, equally, it is frequently the primary source of