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Thursday, February 17, 2011

What is smarter than a human?

We are one big leap closer to computer intelligence. Anyone who watched the Jeopardy challenge episodes this week must have been amazed by the way that the IBM computer, Watson, was able to dominate gameplay. That’s right, a real live (well, sort of) computer was kicking butt in Jeopardy.
If that doesn’t seem so amazing, take a moment to consider the nature of the gameshow clues. They involve plays on words, puns, colloquialisms, and language twists that are sometimes difficult even for us humans to grasp right away. Yet Watson was slamming one clue after another. Sometimes he was wrong, sometimes he wasn’t even close, but after three days that machine ended up with a score three times as high as either of the human players. This is a feat a fair bit more difficult than simply beating one of us meat-bags at chess. (In fairness to Deep Blue, the chess ‘puter, I wouldn’t have the skills to even understand how either machine was programed, so you’re still impressive too.)
As part of the show, the top three choices that Watson selected were displayed on the screen, to give us a peek at his thought process. It was interesting, to say the least. One clue I remember asked what sort of footwear you’d have if you were wearing “Wellington’s at Wimbledon.” Among Watson’s choices were “panties.” He had rubber boots (the correct answer) on the list, but he wasn’t at all sure (somewhere about 40%, I believe). So I conclude that he brought up all the clothing items that had radically different names in the U.K. when compared to America, which is how panties showed up (knickers, mates, knickers).
What’s next? After gameshows, maybe talk shows? Guests at first, spouting on about programmers never taking them out, and the Apple machines they have affairs with, but then eventually getting their own shows. After that, probably mayors of major urban centres, then United States governors. Perhaps even the White House isn’t beyond reach? So long as the computer in question wasn’t made in China, it could certainly be considered “born in America” for their silly anti-immigration presidential clause. Some Canadians could argue that a computer prime minister would have more warmth and personality than our current model, so maybe we have something to look forward to.
In the world of Jeopardy, both poor fleshlings Watson was pounding on knew they were crushed completely. For his Final Jeopardy answer on the third day, after his real response, Ken Jennings wrote: “I for one welcome our new computer overlords.”
Always side with a winner. Smart move; Skynet would approve.

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