By Andrew Nusca
Posting in Science
IBM's experiment to pit its "Watson" supercomputer against Jeopardy champions isn't just novelty -- it's the culmination of years of research on artificial intelligence. Will it succeed?
By now, you have no doubt heard about IBM's daring experiment to pit its latest supercomputer -- dubbed "Watson" -- against Jeopardy champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter on Feb. 14. (In fact, we covered the practice round on this very site.)
The public may not realize how big a deal it really is, writes author Richard Powers in a New York Times op/ed.
A computer beating Jennings and Rutter may be the latest novelty in a war that began in 1997 when Big Blue's "Deep Blue" system bested Gary Kasparov in a chess match. But the game show Jeopardy -- in which contestants must answer trivia questions riddled with arcane facts, wordplay and innuendo -- is orders of magnitude more difficult than a chess match, Powers argues.
Open-domain question answering has long been one of the great holy grails of artificial intelligence. It is considerably harder to formalize than chess. It goes well beyond what search engines like Google do when they comb data for keywords. Google can give you 300,000 page matches for a search of the terms “greyhound,” “origin” and “African country,” which you can then comb through at your leisure to find what you need.
Asked in what African country the greyhound originated, Watson can tell you in a couple of seconds that the authoritative consensus favors Egypt. But to stand a chance of defeating Mr. Jennings and Mr. Rutter, Watson will have to be able to beat them to the buzzer at least half the time and answer with something like 90 percent accuracy.
It wasn't just a matter of feeding Watson every piece of public data on record, though. Watson's "secret sauce" is the concurrent use of more than 100 techniques to, well, think: analyze natural language, appraise sources, propose hypotheses, merge the results and rank the top guesses, Powers writes.
If, after a couple of seconds, the countless possibilities produced by the 100-some algorithms converge on a solution whose chances pass Watson’s threshold of confidence, it buzzes in.
The experiment raises questions about what constitutes real thought: is it a matter of statistical correlation within a massive database of information, or something greater?
Regardless of whether Watson wins, the experiment will give IBM's David Ferrucci another set of data from which to analyze and learn.
The real question: is it possible for humans to program a computer that's truly smarter than them?
Is "smart" an art, or a science? (And can you program it?)
Related on SmartPlanet:
- Wolfram Alpha vs. IBM's Watson: How they think
- Robots may soon have eyes like you, thanks to artificial intelligence
- Military-grade artificial intelligence now on the iPhone
Feb 6, 2011
Watsons process of search and categorize by relevance at SSD speeds makes it much more efficient than human thought process speed.
I think Watson definitely has an advantage, because as soon as the categories are displayed Watson can cache all the relevant data into RAM. additionally, the only way Watson might lose is if there is a memory leak in one of it's active processes, or it decides to re-run a data search index right before the first question gets asked... :P
Not to disagree with your main point, i2fun, but a dogfight between fighter jets is still a human controlled activity even if the newest aircraft such as the F-22 or Typhoon is involved. That's why the Air Force prefers to avoid them altogether.
Watson doesn't get a case of the nerves, though I'd guess Watson's programmers might. The Jeopardy event runs Feb. 14-16. PBS NOVA has an episode about it starting Feb. 9, so watch if you're interested in the evolution of AI.
I'm afraid Jennings and Rudder are going down. Here's why; first of all humans have to physically reach out and push the button. Watson (1st cousin to HAL) simply activates a circuit, when it has an answer. From what we are seeing in artificial intelligence today in fighter jets, sometimes humans reaction time just isn't fast enough in a dogfight and the computer is what wins there. We also forget computer chips are more organic in their processing of data and how it's neural pathways have been designed to compute in nanoseconds results and deliver them. It's almost like our own nervous system and how our own brains work. With SSD hard drives today, there is no seek and scan required either. The neural pathways to the data it holds are direct and instantaneous. It's pathways are perfect w/o anomalies that exist in our human minds, where our brain must work on infinite variety of tasks constantly and it's neural pathways can become quite congested and result in brain farts. Watson has no such anomalies in the way and doesn't have the congestion of thought processes that can cause these brain farts!!! Therefore I predict Watson the winner!!!
I believe that "smart" can be simulated by a set of actions and decisions, programmable, which is implemented consistently can be seen as "intelligence".
Note that in Jeopardy there are at least two strategies .... the obvious one of hitting the buzzer as soon as the player knows the answer ... or, esp. in categories where the player's knowledge is good, the player can bang the buzzer ASAP, and use the remaining 1.x or more seconds to then retrieve the answer from the vaults. Furthermore, it would be relatively easy to run a simulation to determine an optimization strategy for each Category, given the (computer) player's own track record on sample questions from a historic database of such questions, vs the response time and accuracy of historic or hypothetical human players. The computer could recalibrate its approach as it learns more about the capabilities of its opponents of the day. (Of course, the human players can also do this, mathematically or instinctively.) The more accurate and speedy the human players, the more the computer would ... probably ... need to play based on an expectation of being able to answer the question. Humans have one significant processing advantage for Jeopardy that Watson probably does not yet have ... immediate (albeit human speed) sure knowledge that some answer is right. Per the description, Watson is always trying to hone in (at computer speed) on the best (most probable) answer from a large set of possibilities. Should be interesting. I think I'll DVR it.