Science fiction is full of stories about humans versus machines. In February 2011, fiction became reality when an IBM supercomputer named Watson went circuits-to-head against two big winners of the popular game show Jeopardy! Watson is an artificial intelligence (AI) computer system that can answer questions put to it in plain spoken English. It has the capacity to interpret metaphors, puns, and jokes. The human contestants were Jeopardy!’s all-time top money winner and a contestant who had won a record 74 games in a row. In the match, Watson was the clear winner, earning a $1 million prize, which IBM planned to donate to charity.
Are computers truly starting to compete with the human brain? Among the processes that Watson performed were focusing on key words and combing its memory for associations with those words. Contestant Ken Jennings said that “under the hood my brain was doing more or less the same thing.” Watson’s “brain” had one advantage, though. It had been loaded with some 200 million pages of content, including entire dictionaries and encyclopedias. And it should be kept in mind that all of Watson’s algorithms were programmed into it by human computer scientists.
Are humans doomed to serve electronic overlords? Can machines truly be superior to people? Comments by prominent linguist and AI expert Noam Chomsky might calm your jitters. He compared Watson to just “a bigger steamroller.” In response, futurist and inventor Ray Kurtzweil predicted that AI will someday surpass unaided human intelligence.
- Smartest Machine on Earth
This fascinating PBS documentary video describes the making of Watson; the Web site also links to a video that explores the next AI frontier: soccer-playing robots.
(Source: PBS; accessed March 8, 2011)
- What Is Artificial Intelligence
This article, by the computer scientist who coined the term “artificial intelligence,” presents basic facts about AI.
(Source: Stanford University, November 12, 2007)
- Watson Trivia Challenge
Take the challenge! Play against Watson at this New York Times Web site; includes links to an article titled “What Is I.B.M.’s Watson?” and a video How Does Watson Work?
(Source: NYTimes.com, June 16, 2010)
- Noam Chomsky v. IBM’s Watson Computer
This brief interview by Gavin Schmitt with renowned linguist Noam Chomsky mentions (and includes a link to) the Turing Test, devised in 1950 by Alan M. Turing, the computer science pioneer.
(Source: The Framing Business, January 23, 2011)