Moravec’s Paradox, Rodney Brooks and Marvin Minsky


The origins of the Moravec’s Paradox can be traced to the 1980s and were created by Hans Moravec, Rodney Brooks, and Marvin Minsky. These three men are considered to be major contributors not only to artificial intelligence, but also in robotics, and technology.


Moravec’s paradox “is the discovery by artificial intelligence and robotics researchers that, contrary to traditional assumptions, high-level reasoning requires very little computation, but low-level sensorimotor skills require enormous computational resources.” To put it more simply it is the belief that machines can, for all practical purposes, become human beings and do all the different things we do. It is as if they would feel and have the idea of human consciousness.

The Language Instinct

Steve Pinker writes in his book The Language Instinct that “The hard problems are easy and the easy problems are hard.” This goes back to the main point the Moravec’s paradox discovered, how high-level reasoning requires little work compared to sensorimotor skills which requires the most computational resources. 

Hans Moravec

Hans Moravec’s explanation of the paradox he believes is based off of evolution. The fact that human beings and our evolution has taken place over many years, unlike a robotic abstract thought which had only been developed recently. The possibilities are there but the problem is with efficiency. He states that “we are all prodigious olympians in perceptual and motor areas, so good that we make the difficult look easy. Abstract thought, though, is a new trick, perhaps less than 100 thousand years old.” What he is stating is that as humans we have these skills and traits ingrained in ourselves through our evolution, and the problem is that a bot does not have this engraved in them. It takes time for this to happen and with this the possibility of trial and error are there. This has implications because if a bot is going to be present in the work force (which many believe they will be soon) there will be much backlash if anything went wrong.

Rodney Brooks

Rodney Brooks is a roboticist who invented the Roomba and now heads Rethink Robotics. Their goal is to apply advanced robotic intelligence to manufacturing and physical labor. Early on working with Moravec and Minsky the goal was to make robots who could do these things and now his company is working towards that. Currently Rethink Robotics main product is called “Baxter.” Their website describes Baxter as an adaptive manufacturing robot.

ImageBaxter can perform repetitive production tasks while working next to people in a safe way. It or he contains cameras, sensors, and sophisticated software that makes it a sentient being who is able to see, feel and understand what needs to be done. They describe it as a robot who knows what “you mean and does what you expect.”Although it is said to be safe and intelligent, is it truly known that it can’t create its own decisions and do what it wants. The iPad looking face is also quite interesting because it shows how one technology can help and give affordances to another. However to be a worker in a manufacturing company or another business and to have one of the Baxter models working next to you seems quite odd. One thing Brooks has said that was interesting in a Ted Talk was “Are robots coming to fast?”, but rather “Are we getting robots soon enough?” He believes that people seem to overestimate technology and robotics in the short term and underestimate.

However like a CNBC article states this model of humanoid robot is going to replace costly human workers, and although that will save businesses money, it will be putting people out of work. Many experts worry that robots in the service or manufacturing sector could have negative effects on employment. Martin Ford, a robotic expert believes that these robots will ultimately hurt the middle class. Currently retail and service industries are the largest employers in the United States and account for almost 20 percent of all employment as of 2011. With robots being able to perform some of their high paying jobs, from a business aspect it is smart to get rid of the human need.
Marvin Minsky

Minsky is an American cognitive scientist in the field of artificial intelligence, and has made many contributions to AI, cognitive psychology, mathematics, computational linguistics, robotics and optics. One creation to focus on was the robotic arm he was able to produce in the year 1968.


At this time technology was still in an early stage and his robotic appendage created great optimism in the field of AI. The arm itself had twelve joints and was controlled by a PDP-6 computer or a joystick. ImageWhat is truly amazing about this video is that at that time the arm was strong enough to lift a person, yet still able to embrace a child. Minsky is still working in this field to this day and what he was able to do in 1968 helped someone like Brooks and his ability to create the “Baxter” robot. 




What is amazing about these three men is the things the have been able to achieve. In class we discussed robotics and if they or cyborgs could become like human beings in the ways they think and act. Minsky was able to showcase some of the first achievements through his use of the robotic arm. Later Brooks would work on his own robots, the most influential and best selling of his brand called “Baxter”, which showcases how robots can perform functions only human beings could before. Overtime the early theories and beliefs they had in the 1980s have changed as newer technologies and possibilities come to the forefront, however it still seems that we are years away from any robot becoming like a human being, or a human being a cyborg. When learning and researching about robotics and artificial intelligence a major point or cause of concern must be employment. As technology and robotics evolves overtime, the use for them in different jobs held by millions of human workers will be better for companies and for businesses. Hopefully as jobs are taken away by robots years from now, new fields and areas of work have opened for humans to fill the new markets and needs.