What some of our thoughtful human friends think about Watson

February 19, 2011

Is anyone really surprised that IBM’s Watson won Jeopardy? Our guess is no, and that most people are still more impressed with Xbox Kinect or being able to watch Netflix on their iPhones. At any rate, a machine has exercised its power over two of Earth’s brightest humans and ultimately it sort of depends on how elastic your imagination is whether or not you think this kind of thing is terrifying or indicative of some sort of huge positive change.

We don’t even know what we think, so we asked some of our most trustworthy friends to decide for us. — Alex Pasternack and Sean Yeaton

Ray Kurzweil, inventor (The Singularity is Near)I’ve always felt that once a computer masters a human’s level of pattern recognition and language understanding, it would inherently be far superior to a human because of this combination…

Yes, there are limitations to Jeopardy! Like all games, it has a particular structure and does not probe all human capabilities, even within understanding language. Already commentators are beginning to point out the limitations of Jeopardy!, for example, that the short length of the queries limits their complexity.

For those who would like to minimize Watson’s abilities, I’ll add the following. When human contestant Ken Jennings selects the “Chicks dig me” category, he makes a joke that is outside the formal game by saying “I’ve never said this on TV, ‘chicks dig me.’” Later on, Watson says, “Let’s finish Chicks Dig Me.” That’s also pretty funny and the audience laughs, but it is clear that Watson is clueless as to the joke it has inadvertently made.

However, Watson was never asked to make commentaries, humorous or otherwise, about the proceedings. It is clearly capable of dealing with a certain level of humor within the queries. If suitably programmed, I believe that it could make appropriate and humorous comments also about the situation it is in. It is going to be more difficult to seriously argue that there are human tasks that computers will never achieve. (Read more here) […]