NOVA: SMARTEST MACHINE ON EARTH
Oh, I was so looking forward to this one! Went to put the screener in the player and the DVD was broken. And too late to get a new one.
So, this is just a programming note that the show is on and it looks so interesting! It airs tonight on PBS, check your local listings.
The show is about IBM’s Watson, probably one of the first steps in building an artificial intelligence machine. Computers are great at retrieving facts – just ask Google. But the fact that you don’t always get what you want with a Google search is what makes Watson so incredible.
We all know the game show Jeopardy. Contestants give the questions based on answers in specific categories. It’s also the toughest trivia show on record. So they’re pitting Watson up against Jeopardy champs for a real episode of the game show that will air next week.
The actual retrieval of facts is technically the easy part for Watson. But what the computer has to do is understand the clue – something most of us can do even if we can’t retrieve the given fact that answers it. I don’t write Jeopardy questions, so I’m having a hard time coming up with a specific kind of example. But word play, such as a pun based on bear, the verb meaning to carry or hold up, and bear, the noun meaning a specific animal, totally messes up a computer while we can get the difference without conscious thought, even if we don’t come up with Yogi Bear in the end.
This is what Watson has been built to do. Obviously, there are real world applications here, but the game makes for an incredible testing platform. And it’s fun. The Jeopardy producers put up a real test for Watson: Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, the two all-time Jeopardy champs.
We’re still several generations from C3PO and R2D2, or even Data. But Watson is one of those first steps.