Machines Will Be Capable, Within Twenty Years, of Doing Any Work That a Man Can Do

Herbert A. Simon? Hubert L. Dreyfus? Raymond Kurzweil? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The field of artificial intelligence (AI) has achieved several remarkable triumphs in recent years. For example, in 2017 the number one ranked Go player in the world was beaten by a computer program called AlphaGo.

Yet, the progress of AI has been much slower than its top researchers predicted. The Nobel-prize winning economist Herbert A. Simon was an influential pioneer in the exploration of AI. Apparently, in the 1960s Simon stated that computers would be capable of doing any tasks that humans could perform within twenty years. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1960 Herbert A. Simon published “The New Science of Management Decision”, and he did assert that computer systems would achieve extraordinarily broad capabilities within two decades, i.e., by 1980. Interestingly, he did not believe that these systems would displace all human labor because computers at that time were very expensive: 1

Technologically, as I have argued earlier, machines will be capable, within twenty years, of doing any work that a man can do. Economically, men will retain their greatest comparative advantage in jobs that require flexible manipulation of those parts of the environment that are relatively rough—some forms of manual work, control of some kinds of machinery (e.g., operating earth-moving equipment), some kinds of nonprogrammed problem solving, and some kinds of service activities where face-to-face human interaction is of the essence.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Machines Will Be Capable, Within Twenty Years, of Doing Any Work That a Man Can Do

Notes:

  1. 1960, The New Science of Management Decision by Herbert A. Simon (Professor of Administration, Graduate School of Industrial Administration, Carnegie Institute of Technology), Chapter: Organizational Design: Man-Machine Systems for Decision Making, Lecture III, Date: April 7, 1960, Quote Page 38, Harper & Row, New York. (Verified with scans)

People Tend To Overestimate What Can Be Done In One Year And To Underestimate What Can Be Done In Five Or Ten Years

Bill Gates? Arthur C. Clarke? J. C. R. Licklider? Roy Amara? Alfred Mayo? George H. Heilmeier? Manfred Kochen? Raymond Kurzweil? Anonymous?

Dear Quote investigator: Predicting the technological future of mankind is enormously difficult. One recurring flaw in such projections has been identified. Here are three versions:

We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

We always overestimate the change that will occur in the short term and underestimate the change that will occur in the long term.

People overestimate what can be done in one year, and underestimate what can be done in ten.

This notion has been attributed to software mogul Bill Gates, science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, visionary computer scientist J. C. R. Licklider, futurist Roy Amara and others.

Quote investigator: The statements above are not identical in meaning, but grouping them together in a single family provides insight. The variety of expressions makes the tracing task quite difficult, and this article simply presents a snapshot of current research.

Arthur C. Clarke did write a partially matching statement in the 1951 book “The Exploration of Space”, but his point differed from the saying under analysis. He did not sharply distinguish the short run and long run. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Yet if we have learned one thing from the history of invention and discovery, it is that, in the long run—and often in the short one—the most daring prophecies seem laughably conservative.

This earliest match known to QI appeared in the 1965 book “Libraries of the Future” by J. C. R. Licklider. Computer memory technology was advancing quickly when the book was written, and Licklider commented on the difficulty of extrapolating trends: 2

Shortly after the text was written, “bulk core” memories, with 18 million bits per unit, and as many as four units per computer, were announced for delivery in 1966. A modern maxim says: “People tend to overestimate what can be done in one year and to underestimate what can be done in five or ten years.”

Licklider disclaimed credit for the saying; hence, this early occurrence was anonymous although some colleagues later ascribed the remark to Licklider.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading People Tend To Overestimate What Can Be Done In One Year And To Underestimate What Can Be Done In Five Or Ten Years

Notes:

  1. 1951, The Exploration of Space by Arthur C. Clarke, Chapter 11: The Lunar Base, Quote Page 111, Harper & Brothers Publishers. New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1965, Libraries of the Future by J. C. R. Licklider, Part 1: Man’s Interaction with Recorded Knowledge, Chapter 1: The Size of the Body of Recorded Information, (Text for Dagger Footnote), Quote Page 17, The MIT Press, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans)