“I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords.”

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The title of the post today — Ken Jennings final Simpsons-inspired “answer” in the Jeopardy! bout against the Brad Rutter and IBM’s computer Watson — was the perfect tongue-in-cheek finish to an amazing experience.  Kudos to Jennings and Rutter for participating and kudos to the IBM folks for their amazing work.

As a follow up to Tuesday’s post, I thought I would post a link to a nice New York Times article from yesterday discussing the Watson Jeopardy! experience: “Computer Wins on ‘Jeopardy!’: Trivial, It’s Not” (apparently the title was written by Yoda).

I’ve often waxed whimsical about picking up my iPhone and simply speaking into it and having it perform whatever function, search, etc. I request.  Not just holding down the button and saying, “Call… John Doe… Mobile…”  Not turning on the mapping feature and asking for directions.  But saying, “I’d like a pizza place along our current route — maybe a local joint instead of a national chain.  What’s up in the next ten or twenty miles?” and having it respond sensibly, accurately, and verbally.

Watson gives us a view of that future, and it might not be too far.

Whatever voice those first mega-apps use, if it doesn’t sound like Majel Barrett-Roddenberry then someone will have seriously messed up the future.

6 thoughts on ““I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords.”

  1. They should’ve had me on there. On that one special night when I got every answer right immediately. Really. WATSON would’ve lost chips down and humanity could be walking around with its head held high this morning.

    Computers, like fire, are great servants but horrible masters, as anyone who’s tried to deal with Windows knows. 😀

  2. Mr. Wheeler, are you saying that your “immediately” would have been fast enough to meat Watson’s “immediately”? Watson’s minimum wait time before “hitting” the buzzer was 10 milliseconds… Pretty fast shooting!

  3. Never underestimate the power of a highly developed Oppositional Introverted Intuiting function, Mr. Smith. 😀 ENFPs reputedly test higher than any other personality type on that kind of foresight. 🙂 Statistically they rate higher than the others in being able to guess machine-generated random turns of a card – I’ll have to track down the link as to what the results were (what the page presents may be maddeningly incomplete as far as the stats go, however, if memory serves).

    On the other hand, if the poor human has to wait until the answer is fully spoken before putting in a question by trigger and verbal feedback, it becomes a question of reflexes and that gives the computer an unfair advantage right there. So even if the human comes up with the correct question before the answer is fully stated (as I did every time), the Trigger Finger Effect will beat him in that event. Did anybody consider this when evaluating the performance of WATSON against his human foes?

  4. Oh, to answer your question more directly: as many, many people will tell you, my “immediately” from childhood up has always involved raising my hand before the poor teacher had a chance to finish even asking the question. 😀 😀 😀

    Now of course WATSON undoubtedly would come up with the answer first, so if allowed he’d beat me there too.

  5. The contestants felt that the timing was not an artificial advantage. However, it is an art on Jeopardy! as you are not allowed to buzz in until a light turns on at your station, forcing all to wait to the same moment and helping to curb the practice of hitting the buzzer at the beginning of a question to “reserve” a shot at answering it before you actually know the answer. Hitting the buzzer too early causes a quarter-second penalty, in which your buzzer is inoperative.

    However, Watson’s timing varied based on how confident it was concerning its answers. So while 10 milliseconds was the minimum, it did not always buzz in that quickly. As Jennings noted, he beat Watson to the buzzer a few times. That judgment call — when to buzz in based on your confidence level — was, I imagine, a fascinating aspect to program.

  6. Linda Patterson

    Two sharp minds in discussion about a machine programed to respond suppossedly faster than the blink of an eye. Wonder what Watson would have added if he were in the middle of two such great intellects. I on the other hand have the simple joy of reading such. I not being in the brain status of either two can just plunder right in the middle and say, I have enjoyed it truly. I enjoyed Watson and ofcourse anything you and John can contribute to any subject. Thank you for sparkling up my day.

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