A high-powered artificial intelligence computer – capable of human logic, linguistics, deciphering puns and instantly searching millions of pages of reference material and encyclopedias for information asked for indirectly – to be tested amongst the smartest contenders in a televised game show.
What is Jeopardy? Alex.
Alex Trebek will be hosting the show next month as IBM’s 2,880-core Linux-based AI supercomputer, Watson, will be taking on two of Jeopardy’s former champions in a full-length episode. The opponents will be Ken Jennings, who holds a world record for most consecutive wins on the show after 74 appearances, as well as Brad Rutter, who holds the record for the largest amount of money won on Jeopardy – $3.25 million.
Only the computer’s screen will be visible at the pedestal, but the rest of the computer will actually remain in the studio’s basement. It will have no internet connection during the game. Rather, all of its answers will be the result of four years of logic programming and 200 million pages of data holding thousands of years of human knowledge condensed into its servers.
Watson’s thought process has been programmed into a multitude of information-processing algorithms. When Trebek asks a question, it starts be interpreting that question, searching for data, grouping the data by word associations; it decides on an answer (which it words as a question, as this is Jeopardy). And it actually calculates how sure it is about its answer, with an 85 per cent accuracy rate. If it’s feeling sure about its answer, Watson calculates a wager and hits the buzzer before answering.
At the end of a practice round yesterday, Watson was in the lead by $1000 to Jennings and Rutter. He even correctly answered questions from the category researchers were worried about: Before and After. To the clue “Snoopy’s owner who’s one of the most poisonous spiders in the United States,” Watson gave the right “Who is Charlie Brown Recluse?” answer.
“We’ve created a system that can interact in a very, very special way,” said IBM research director John E. Kelly III in one interview. In artificial intelligence, “People spend their lifetimes trying to advance that science inches. What Watson does, and has demonstrated, is the ability to advance the field of art intelligence by miles. People who are experts in this area who have seen Watson privately said, ‘I never thought I would have seen this in my lifetime.’”
It seems Watson’s a lady-charmer, too. He took nearly every answer in a category dubbed “Chicks Dig Me.”
Is there anything this computer can’t do? Yes.
Watson doesn’t understand human speech. But Kelly says the type of technology powering Watson tends to double every 18 to 24 months, and believes it’s only a matter of time before it catches up with human capabilities.
Once it does, IBM hopes to bring Watson-type AI to health care. With its ability to instantly sort through millions of pages of medical information based on the same information doctors typically collect – symptoms, environmental changes and influences, etc – it could aid doctors in giving more accurate diagnoses.
Other potential applications may be call centres and help desks, among other things. But the most profitable application of the technology, says the Globe and Mail, would be in the field of business analytics (which, on a personal note, would put about half of my friends in Argentina out of a job).
“Thanks to the digital revolution, large companies routinely collect far more data than they can effectively analyze – everything from customer information to buying habits to website metrics,” writes Omar El Akkad, tech reporter with the Globe and Mail. Some of the biggest tech firms in the world are racing to develop solutions that can not only sort through the massive influx of information, but make the best possible business decisions based on that data. With Watson, IBM may have a tool that searches with the speed of a supercomputer, but thinks with something approximating a human mind.
The project’s lead researcher, David Ferrucci, says the computer even has the ability to recognize the areas in which it lacks a proper understanding – a concept that has been the premise of many sci-fi/horrors. But when asked about the possibility of the advanced AI potentially turning against the people it was created to help, Ferrucci gave only an ominous “That’s science fiction…We’re not even close to that.”
Watson is set to redefine what we know of “User Interface,” and once the technology shrinks down a bit, may be a huge step towards (everyone’s thinking it, I’m just saying it) intelligent robots, just like in the movies.
The human vs. machine Jeopardy match will be airing Feb. 14 to 16; we’ll remind you beforehand.