Who would win a fistfight between a man and a robot? Take a look at the evidence, and see if you agree with our conclusion.

David Wagner, Executive Editor, Community & IT Life

July 25, 2014

3 Min Read

to compensate as wind, air resistance, spin, and air temperature act on the flight of the ball, not to mention deal with running over uneven ground, multiple surfaces, a changing eyeline as he leaps, and the force of hitting the wall.

But there's a robot designed by the Learning Algorithms and Systems Laboratory at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne that can make all of those calculations. It can catch better than a human. And it learns to get better. Each time you throw something at it, it uses cameras to calculate the trajectory. Even objects like half-full bottles with changing centers of gravity are no problem for it, once it has time to practice.

If it can be trained to catch a ball, it can catch a punch.

Advantage: Robots with a surprise reversal.

Sometimes you get the feeling there's nothing left that humans do better than robots. There are robots that paint as well as people. And even robots that sing.

Robots have beaten our best chess, Scrabble, and Go champions. They tirelessly wear us down and keep learning. What can't they do that we can?

Interestingly enough, they can't read bad handwriting. This matters more than you think. Reading bad handwriting takes two types of skills that robots are really bad at: bottom-up and top-down thinking. They don't reason well from partial information. Robots need the playing field set in a way they fully understand to succeed. Humans don't.

Advantage: Humans, despite the ability for robots to outsmart (and even out-paint) humans. A fight is a place where information is concealed and the playing field requires deduction. In a fight for life, I think humans might have some tricks.

Championship Belt
So what's the verdict? I say humans win in a close one. But it is getting uncomfortably close. I'm remembering those classic wrestling matches where the bad guy gets something in the eyes of the good guy to steal it at the last moment.

That's how close this is. And to keep from being enslaved by robots, we're going to have to fight dirty.

The real issue right now is we can make robots that are strong. We can make robots that are fast. We can make robots that think or paint or catch. But we've never made a robot that does all of these things. When we put the catching arm and the strong arm onto the fast robot, come talk to me.

Until then, humans, with their will to live, guile, and ability to deal with incomplete information, will win. We keep the belt for now.

What do you think? Who wins a fight between robots and humans? Will humans one day make a robot so good they really do enslave us? Or does that just make a great sci-fi plot? Which robot scares you the most? Comment below.

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About the Author(s)

David Wagner

Executive Editor, Community & IT Life

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, leadership, and innovation. He has also been a freelance writer for many top consulting firms and academics in the business and technology sectors. Born in Silver Spring, Md., he grew up doodling on the back of used punch cards from the data center his father ran for over 25 years. In his spare time, he loses golf balls (and occasionally puts one in a hole), posts too often on Facebook, and teaches his two kids to take the zombie apocalypse just a little too seriously. 

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