The quest for a conscious robot (April, p114) has been going on since the first computer was built. There are, however, two human abilities that are not in any way mimicked by expert systems: the ability to solve problems that do not have a precedent, and the ability to find unprecedented solutions to existing problems. A good example of the latter is that in the early 1700s, Cornish mine owners were going ever deeper to find tin, and they had a problem with pumping water out of their mines. The established technology was to use horse gins and windmills. An expert [computer] system would have come up with a better scheme using these existing technologies. Instead, Thomas Newcomen invented the atmospheric steam engine in 1712. A conscious robot/artificial intelligence system would have to find a way of mimicking these human abilities.
Robots would not be able to come up with Thomas Newcomen’s atmospheric steam engine, says Paul Jeffels