Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Open the Pod Bay Doors, HAL!

As I write this, I am watching night 2 of a 3 night event: A computer vs. Jeopardy.

Apparently, 3 years ago, the eggheads at IBM approached the producers of the daily game show with a request: They wanted to build a computer that could challenge human players.

Challenge. Accepted.

Jeopardy chose its two biggest money winners: Ken Jennings, who set a record for most consecutive wins, and Brad Rutter, the all-time biggest money winner, to compete against IBM in what is basically a 3 night commercial for the company.

Against them is Watson, an advanced supercomputer with Gigabytes of useless knowledge in its memory banks, an ability to recognize puns, wordplay, and other quirks of the human language, and a superhuman ability to recall.

The first night, it started off strong, but then made a couple of very silly mistakes that cost it some money. It also has the tendency to mis-pronounce things, and it has a very strange wagering system when it comes to the daily doubles.

It also scares me a little.

There is no computer that can currently match the human brain, in terms of reasoning power, intuitive thinking, and creativity. Not even close.

But they are working on it. And give us humans a few more seasons of "Jersey Shore" and "Keeping up with the Kardashians" (I wouldn't watch either show if you held me at gunpoint, by the way) and we will become collectively as dumb as a bag of frozen shrimp. Throw in the explosion of smart phones, and I think we will soon be ready to become the slaves of the machines.

Terminator, anyone?

Update (8 p.m.): Watson won the Double Jeopardy round, winning over $36,000 total. It did not come up with the correct "question" to the Final Jeopardy "answer" (paraphrasing): "This (U.S.) city's largest airport is named after a WW2 hero, and its second largest is named after a WW2 battle. (Question: What is Chicago?(O'Hare & Midway)). The computer, however, wisely only wagered about $500. Also, Toronto is apparently now a U.S. city. It is in the lead for the final round tomorrow.

Update (8 p.m. Wednesday): It's over, and Watson has triumphed! This round was a lot more even than the previous round, possibly because it had more bizarre categories. Watson also showed a weakness in the "Actors who direct" category, which simply gave the names of some movies and the contestants had to give the name of the actor who directed (and sometimes starred) in the movie.

So machine triumphs over man yet again. Ken Jennings came close to beating it, nearly pulling a John Henry at the end. But he didn't wager enough in the final Jeopardy round, and Watson went for broke, betting nearly all of its money.

At least when the machines take us over, I'll be too old to work in the slave labor force and will be killed. I feel sorry for my nephews, though...

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