When you combine the game show Jeopardy with advanced technology I am in Heaven.
That’s happening as IBM’s “Watson” takes on all-time Jeopardy winner Ken Jennings and money champion Brad Rutter this week.
When I mention this to friends some roll their eyes and say that a computer in a game of question and answer should win hands down. That’s not been the case thus far. The score was tied on day one.
IBM began developing Watson in 2007, its most ambitious foray into deep analytics and natural language processing. It was a huge leap to get a computer to truly understand human language. This includes having Watson comprehend puns, irony, slang, riddles, complexity and ambiguity. That’s hard. Is a bat a flying mammal or a stick? How does it understand the connection or difference between kissing, liking and being happy? The initial version of Watson took up to two hours to answer a single Jeopardy question.
Early on Watson took on this question: “It’s a no brainer that this Nobel laureate and Secretary of State was made an honorary Globetrotter in 1976.” Watson replied: “What is Nobel Peace Prize?”
One IBM researcher said it could take 100 years before computers fully understand everything about human language and knowledge. I wonder what will happen when computers can buy and sell stocks at a profit much better than humans. For more on IBM’s development of Watson, including videos, see this link here.
Futurist Ray Kurzweil has spent a lot of time studying all this. He is the subject of a cover story in Time Magazine this week, about the future of computer intelligence and the impact on our lives. It includes a sidebar on Man vs. Machine moments such as the 1996 match between chess master Garry Kasparov vs. IBM’s Deep Blue.
Whether all this will lead to a life of The Jetsons or something more sinister like Skynet or Matrix I don’t know.
I will make two predictions, though. The time will come when people ensconce into cocoon-like contraptions, attach sensors to the brain and other body parts and enter an alternate reality they program on their home computer. They might choose to spend weeks traveling the world. They could program themselves to be a fish, or an eagle or, who knows, they might even choose to change their sex.
I also envision the Cyber Olympics, where there are no rules. Take a human and add whatever technology is available and let the best ManBot win. People might be able to run 100 mph or lift three tons. Sponsors might include IBM, Caterpillar or Lockheed Martin.
History shows that technology leaps our mores and values, and then man decides whether to cross that line, which we ultimately do.
Computers will become some of our best and most loyal companions, likely our spouses in some cases. I’m OK with that, I suppose, as long as there is a shut-off button.