The Winner is Watson February 17, 2011Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Artificial Intelligence, Current Events, Nina Rosenstand's Posts, Science, Technology.
Tags: "Jeopardy", rights, Star Trek, Watson
So it has finally happened: a computer has outwitted the humans—Watson won on “Jeopardy.” As reported by the New York Times’ John Markoff,
For I.B.M., the showdown was not merely a well-publicized stunt and a $1 million prize, but proof that the company has taken a big step toward a world in which intelligent machines will understand and respond to humans, and perhaps inevitably, replace some of them.
Watson, specifically, is a “question answering machine” of a type that artificial intelligence researchers have struggled with for decades — a computer akin to the one on “Star Trek” that can understand questions posed in natural language and answer them.
One of Watson’s developers, Dr. Ferrucci, refers to the computer as though it is a person who actually deliberates. That, for you Trekkers, is also reminiscent of numerous Star Trek episodes:
Both Mr. Jennings and Mr. Rutter are accomplished at anticipating the light that signals it is possible to “buzz in,” and can sometimes get in with virtually zero lag time. The danger is to buzz too early, in which case the contestant is penalized and “locked out” for roughly a quarter of a second.
Watson, on the other hand, does not anticipate the light, but has a weighted scheme that allows it, when it is highly confident, to buzz in as quickly as 10 milliseconds, making it very hard for humans to beat. When it was less confident, it buzzed more slowly. In the second round, Watson beat the others to the buzzer in 24 out of 30 Double Jeopardy questions.
“It sort of wants to get beaten when it doesn’t have high confidence,” Dr. Ferrucci said. “It doesn’t want to look stupid.”
And what’s next?
For I.B.M., the future will happen very quickly, company executives said. On Thursday it plans to announce that it will collaborate with Columbia University and the University of Maryland to create a physician’s assistant service that will allow doctors to query a cybernetic assistant. The company also plans to work with Nuance Communications Inc. to add voice recognition to the physician’s assistant, possibly making the service available in as little as 18 months.
“I have been in medical education for 40 years and we’re still a very memory-based curriculum,” said Dr. Herbert Chase, a professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University who is working with I.B.M. on the physician’s assistant. “The power of Watson- like tools will cause us to reconsider what it is we want students to do.”
I.B.M. executives also said they are in discussions with a major consumer electronics retailer to develop a version of Watson, named after I.B.M.’s founder, Thomas J. Watson, that would be able to interact with consumers on a variety of subjects like buying decisions and technical support.
But…here’s the ultimate Star Trek question: Will Watson and others of its kind have the right to refuse the tasks they will be assigned to do? Because otherwise (thank you, Melissa Snodgrass, writer of that classic Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “The Measure of a Man”) we will have created a new breed of—slaves. Provided that Watson actually develops a sense of self. But we have yet to see evidence of that.