Man or machine that is more reliable

Mathilda Perez is on the run. She gets into an old-fashioned car with her son Nolan - one that she has to drive herself. Nobody in their right mind drives such cars anymore, especially not with children. Cars that do not drive autonomously are dangerous because people react too slowly when they are in danger.

But Perez has to do it - because in Daniel Wilson's science fiction novel "Robocalypse" the robots rose against humanity. Perez only has one chance to survive: it has to rely on ancient technology that works without software. Unfortunately, Perez has no more routine in it. She says, "I hate it. I don't want to be in control of the car. I just want to arrive."

A robot apocalypse is not yet ahead of us, but the novel already shows where the trend is headed: For years, people have been delegating more and more tasks to machines and software. And that is an inevitable as well as ambivalent development.

The response time of machines is predictable and always the same

The best argument in favor of the machines is their speed: in road traffic, for example, an autonomous braking system reacts to an obstacle before a person could even cast a curse. In the military, ammunition and guided missiles have long been flying at supersonic speeds. The Russo-Indian missile BrahMos-II, which is due to go into operation in 2017, speeds around seven times faster than any sound through the air at 8,575 kilometers per hour. Such attacks can only be countered if computers take over the defense. The Israeli Iron Dome system, for example, identifies enemy missiles and automatically fires them with high accuracy.

In February 2015, programmers demonstrated how quickly and intelligently computers react using the computer game Breakout. The object of the game is to use the bat to direct a ball at a wall in order to gradually destroy it. The player wins the level as soon as he clears the wall. As the game progresses, the ball gets faster.

The developers of the London start-up DeepMind, which Google bought last year, let go of their artificially intelligent software on Breakout. At first she played badly. But then she began to learn by herself. After 600 training units, the software still hit the ball when it raced across the screen so fast that it was barely visible to a human.

The reaction time of machines is predictable and always the same, that of humans is not. As early as the second half of the 19th century, the Dutch physiologist Franciscus Cornelis Donders (1818-1889) discovered that the human reaction time increases as soon as the brain has to make even the simplest decisions.

In one of Donder's experiments, subjects were asked to press a button as quickly as possible as soon as a light came on. A second group of subjects was asked to press a left or right button, depending on whether a light was shining on the left or right. The response time for this simple task was delayed by an average of 100 milliseconds.