Links for 2011-02-20

  • "Watson won. That set of microchips will soon join the pantheon of machines that have defeated humans, from the steam-powered hammer that killed John Henry to the Deep Blue supercomputer that battled Kasparov. Predictably enough, the victory inspired a chorus of "computer overlord" anxieties, as people used the victory of microchips to proclaim the decline of the human mind, or at least the coming of the singularity.

    Personally, I was a little turned off by the whole event -- it felt like a big marketing campaign for IBM and Jeopardy. Nevertheless, I think the real moral of Watson is that our brain, even though it lost the game, is a pretty stunning piece of meaty machinery. Although we always use the latest gadget as a metaphor for the black box of the mind -- our nerves were like telegraphs before they were like telephone exchanges before they were like computers -- the reality is that our inventions are pretty paltry substitutes. Natural selection has nothing to worry about."

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it felt like a big marketing campaign for IBM and Jeopardy

Well, why shouldn't it feel like what it is?

It was a marketing campaign, but it was also entertaining and interesting to watch.

as for our computer overlords: the computer world it is all about artificial selection but the basic rules of natural selection apply. The best technology survives, reproduces, improves, and is mated with other technologies that have won in their own respective arenas.

we are a long way from the Singularity, from SkyNet, and from the many other sci-fi inspired visions of computer utopia/dystopia. We are also a long way from the vacuum tube driven ENIAC that was the original predecessor to Watson. The advances in computer technology over the past few decades have been amazing to watch. Yes, the human brain is an amazing meaty machine, but it has taken millions of year of evolution to develop. Computer have been around for less than 1 human lifetime. They have done a lot of evolving in that time. How much more will they evolve in the next 70 years? That question is at the root of our fascination and our fears. (just for the record, count me among the fascinated and no the fearful)

As I blogged, I'm far from convinced that Watson won based on anything more than a faster (electronic) reaction time on questions where everyone knew the answer:

http://doctorpion.blogspot.com/2011/02/reaction-time.html

Regarding evolution, Watson's predecessor did not give birth to its circuits and teach it its software, and Watson itself seemed to not listen to the other answers. Makes me wonder if Watson was fed the questions electronically rather than reading and hearing them like everyone else.

By CCPhysicist (not verified) on 20 Feb 2011 #permalink