Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Man vs. Machine

I've posted before on my fascination with technology and how it is changing our world at an exponential rate. This week, technology and computing are pushing the envelope yet again.

As you know, Joey is a big fan of the game show Jeopardy!. He hopes one day to be a (winning) contestant.

Last night, the first of three consecutive nights, Jeopardy! featured two previous champions competing against IBM's cutting edge software WATSON. Watson is an artificial intelligence program developed by IBM designed to answer questions posed in natural language. For those interested in gaining a deeper understanding of this software, more information is available here (and of course, there's always Wikipedia). The implications for practical uses are mind-boggling.

For those interested, Joey has agreed to share his running commentary with us over the next three days. I have included the videos so you can "Watch along with Joey".

7:00 – Here we go. Man vs. Machine. Humanity vs. Computer. And to top it all off there’s an element of "Us vs. Them" to this matchup. There’s got to be something that computers just can’t do, right? Right???

7:02 – Brad Rutter isn’t as well known as Ken Jennings but he is quite the champion as well. Brad played originally in the days where you didn’t keep going until you lost. You got a car after 5 wins and a spot in the Tournament of Champions. The reason Ken got to go 75 days is because his season was the first to abolish the limit.

7:08 – Look, Watson changes colors depending on how he feels! Watson is a mood ring. With a thumb. Who sweats. So basically he’s a really smart but nervous teenager from the 70s.

7:09 – Yes! I got the first question and Watson didn’t! Joey 1 – Computer 0!

7:12 – Watson 10 – Joey 1.

7:14 – Ah, the oddness of Watson. He knows all about black holes but he can’t get the Harry Potter question that most 12-year-olds would answer with ease…

7:18 – I like that fake practice host! Maybe he’s Alex Trebek’s understudy. If he works hard on his holier-than-thou voice and his fancy accents he could be ready to go in a few years.

7:19 – Haha! 97% sure of nothing Watson! How’re you going to take over the world with that kind of mistake. There definitely seems to be something on the line here for the “pre-computer generation.” My father continues to express his disapproval when the computer does well and when I called my grandmother to ask if she was watching, her first words were: “I don’t like it.”
We’ll see if more people express the sentiment that Watson is “unnatural” or “wrong” depending on how well he does. (Or you could post your feelings in the comment section. I’m not real sure how that works but feel free.)

7:20 – Who is Klaus Barbie and did he get mocked for his name during his trial? Did he murder someone who made fun of his ridiculous name? Note to self: Wikipedia that.

7:21 – And Watson, like every other teenager, fails to listen. At least we have one thing in common. Also, I love how Trebek criticizes Watson. It’s a computer Alex! It can’t hear you! It’s not a person! Then again, I’m the one calling Watson “him” every other sentence…

7:22 – Hey! Watson and I got the same wrong answer. I don’t know if I should feel validated in my wrongness or not… Watson seems to be having a lot of trouble with this decades category. I wonder why…

7:23 – This is some good trivia. Because the host country goes last in the Parade of Nations while Greece goes first because they were the originators of the Olympics. In 2004, Greece hosted the Games so they split the difference. Their flag went in first but the team walked in last. Also there is a grave of one “Eleanor Rigby” in the graveyard where John Lennon and Paul McCartney first met. IIRC, McCartney claimed not to remember the gravestone but it’s still a funky coincidence at the very least.

7:27 – So the humans are keeping it close. If this running diary seems a little awkward, that’s probably because I’ve never really done it before. I’ll try to get better for the next two days. I’d like to note a couple things after Day 1 though:
  1. Watson hasn’t faced a lot of wordplay and hints yet. That’s where a computer might struggle and a champion like Ken or Brad might thrive.
  2. I think Final Jeopardy will be crucial in these two games. FJ often contains one big “hint.” If you figure it out, the answer can come rather easily. But if you miss it, you’re in trouble. If Watson really can grasp nuances of natural language, his database should be able to pick out the right answer after figuring out the hint. If not, he’ll lose a golden opportunity. Personally, I think that if he gets both Final Jeopardys, Watson will win.
  3. My prediction: Watson over Ken then Brad. But not by much…The computers have work to do yet before they can take over the world…
OK, folks. What do YOU think? Where do you predict this will lead? Is it a good thing overall, or not?


Yekke Wannabe said...

I pick Watson to win in the battle Man VS Machine because Rav Breuer prefered machine Matzohs over hand Matzohs for the seder.

Yekkishe Bekishe said...

What about Day 2???