A.I. expert Ray Kurzweil picks computer in “Jeopardy!” match

February 9, 2011

When the IBM computer called “Watson” faces off against past “Jeopardy” champs on Monday (February 14,2011), no one will be watching more intently than inventor Ray Kurzweil, a leading authority on the future of artificial intelligence. Based on his calculations of the accelerating rate of growth of computing power, Kurzweil in the 1980s predicted that a computer would defeat a world chess champion in 1998.

IBM’s Deep Blue beat world champion chess player Garry Kasparov in 1997. Last month, in a practice round, Watson defeated two top Jeopardy” champions. USA Today asked Kurzweil, 62, a recipient of the National Medal of Technology, to share his thoughts about the upcoming “Jeopardy” match and lay some odds on who (or what) will win.

Noted inventor and author Ray Kurzweil says “Jeopardy!” match between IBM computer and past champions will be seen as threshold in artificial intelligence.

Q: How significant is this match in the quest for artificial intelligence?

 A: It’ll be seen as a major threshold. The key to human intelligence is really mastering the subtleties of human language, things like puns and jokes and metaphors. And if you look at the queries in Jeopardy you see they’re quite complex and subtle, and exactly what’s being talked about is not so clear. Watson appears to be able to get it very well, as well as the best players.

 Q: And the winner will be?

 A: I think Watson has the inside track. But if it doesn’t win, it will come close, and it will come back and win in the very near future. Because it’s only going to get better. And humans are not getting better.

 Q: How much better are computers going to get?

 A: Information technologies — and computers are the quintessential information technology — grow exponentially. They double in power in under a year. […]