I posted some thoughts about the exhibition here
. In a nutshell, I think this is a significant milestone in the history of AI, but in no way does it diminish humanity's pride of place.
Bill, thanks for your article. I enjoyed reading it and have a few comments about it.
Last week, an IBM computer named Watson beat Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, the two greatest Jeopardy! players of all time, in a nationally televised event.
Brad and Ken are undisputedly the two biggest money winners on Jeopardy, but it's pretty subjective to say they are the two Greatest Of All Time. It's kind of like declaring the two greatest Shakespeare plays of all time.
Watson was named for Thomas J. Watson, IBM’s first president. But he could just as easily have been named after John B. Watson, the American psychologist who is considered to be the father of behaviorism.
He could also have been named after Bunny Watson
, as played by Katherine Hepburn in the prescient humans-versus-machine film, Desk Set
. In that 1957 comedy, the humans who worked in the research department of a TV network lost their jobs to an IBM computer that was crammed with the same kind of facts and trivia that they had been paid to look up all day. The action led to a climactic showdown between the human workers and the computer. Watson won that contest, but in this case, it was the human Watson who triumphed over the IBM computer. I think IBM has been plotting its revenge ever since.
Some complained that the computer’s superior buzzer speed gave it the advantage, but buzzer speed is the whole point.
It is for Jeopardy players, but it certainly wasn't the whole point for IBM's researchers. IBM hoped to impress the world with Watson's ability to answer questions, not his ability to press a button. Excellence in both parts of the game is required in order to win, and IBM has clearly made great advances in the ability to answer unstructured questions. It must be very frustrating to the Watson team that so much discussion has been focused on the buzzer and the competitive advantage that was provided by 100-year-old solenoid technology.
Watson can’t hear the the other players, which means he can’t eliminate their incorrect responses when he buzzes in second. It also means that he doesn’t learn the correct answer unless he gives it, which makes it difficult for him to catch on to category themes.
Not true. Watson is sent the correct answer at the end of every clue, after it is out of play. This is what helps Watson learn within each category, regardless of whether or not anyone provides a correct response.
This wasn’t a Turing test. Watson was trying to beat the humans, not emulate them. And he did.
I totally agree. Watson was built and trained to produce a specific result under a set of rules, and IBM tried to identify and optimize all the steps needed to reach the goal of winning a Jeopardy match. I've seen a lot of suggestions that Watson's accomplishments are somehow less valid because he achieves these results by using different thinking processes than humans use. I think that's missing the whole point about why this technology is potentially valuable. We already have lots of human doctors who think the way humans think, as imperfect as that is. With help from Watson, future doctors will be able to think more effectively and find solutions that they never would have thought of on their own.