Monday, February 14, 2011

elementary, my dear Watson

Tonight was the first of a long, drawn-out Jeopardy game featuring Watson the supercomputer, developed by IBM to... play Jeopardy, I guess. He was playing against the "two greatest Jeopardy players"- but the weird thing was that he wasn't very good. I mean, he was good, and for awhile it looked like he was going to win, but he ended up tied with one of the Human Being Players. Then there was a little segment about how the group of scientists programming Watson at IBM had a hard time making him understand the various phrasings of Jeopardy questions. Which made me think...

The whole point of supercomputers is to be smarter than humans, right? And everyone is potentially concerned about how someday the supercomputers might get so smart that they'll take over the world a la 2001: A Space Odyssey. But how can a computer be smarter than the people who program it? It was a little like Watson was Amelia Bedelia, always taking statements at their face value, making cakes out of sponges when requested to bake a spongecake, etc.

It was kind of comforting, to see the computer be so bizarrely out of tune and to watch the Human Beings match wits with him. Not that I REALLY thought computers were about to take over the world, but you never know.

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