Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What is the Impending Robot Uprising?

On Monday, the sexy, black-suited thugs who work at IBM announced the creation of a new supercomputer they’re planning on entering as a contestant on Jeopardy!. Actually, the supercomputer isn’t really the contestant. It’s the artificial intelligence program that will run on the computer. The creators of the program (called Watson after IBM’s Thomas J. Watson, Sr.) say that it’s capable of pulling contextually correct information from a set database of stored knowledge that it can then phrase into an appropriate response for Jeopardy!. The potential breakthrough here isn’t in the program’s ability to think so much as its ability to understand the subtleties of human language. For example, when given the answer “Bordered by Syria and Israel, this small country is only 135 miles long and 35 miles wide”, the program is able to respond with the correct question, “What is Lebanon?”, by contextualizing the information it already has. The Jeopardy! Producers hope to lure back all-time champion Ken Jennings to compete with Watson. So at the very least, we have a pretty good idea who the first casualty of the Robot Wars will be. More details here.

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