Artificial intelligence has limitless potential
Published: Sunday, February 20, 2011
Updated: Sunday, February 20, 2011 15:02
I'll take Technology for $500.
This is the best way for IBM to show the world it's on the cutting edge of technology.
What is: spending a speculated $2 billion and showcasing its technological marvel on a game show viewed by the only demographic that remembers when IBM was actually considered to be on the cutting edge of technology?
This isn't just any technological marvel, this marvel has a name: Watson. It was created by IBM, competed on Jeopardy! last week and won against the best human players in show history.
When IBM started five years ago, it stuck their newest researcher, James Fan, a young Chinese-American with a hot-off-the-press doctorate degree from the University of Texas, on the project.
He was asked to build a Jeopardy! computer with no help. He was given 500 Jeopardy! clues and one month to produce.
While Fan initially used the Internet to fuel his answers, this was only as a precaution; IBM didn't want to create Watson only to have some kid in his parent's basement beat them to it using the Internet and a personal computer.
Watson has come quite a way since its inception, now storing tens of millions of documents. His brain is a little larger than the human brain. It's actually about 10 refrigerator-sized boxes filled with brains. Or, in more useful terms, it's a system of 90 IBM Power 750 servers, each containing 32 POWER7 processor cores running at 3.55 GHz and each of the servers is equipped with 256 GB of RAM.
This type of technology should have happened sooner, said Marvin Minsky of MIT, but decades were wasted on attempting to come up with one single mathematical model of the human brain, when in reality the brain works in separate segments, similar to a network of computers.
This is the approach that worked for Watson.
He then asks a collection of algorithms a question which is designed to analyze natural language in order to know. For instance, Watson knows that the question is asking about George Washington, the person, not the bridge named after the president. The more algorithms that lead to an answer, the more certain he is that the answer is correct and the more money he would wager.
He may be intelligent, but as his Homo sapiens rival on Jeopardy! quickly pointed out in an interview, Watson is able to make mistakes that a small child would be able to avoid, like when he confused Jamie Foxx with Ludwig van Beethoven (what an idiot!).
Game show aside, this is a major accomplishment in the area of artificial intelligence, with endless applications — from the mundane, such as a company searching through its database for the best product to use, to a life changing diagnostic tool for doctors.
If the system knows all of the symptoms of a patient it can compare it to every disease and determine the best treatment. And then, ironically, aid in another field to assist as a legal resource when lawyers attempt to sue doctors for malpractice.
It also has possible consequences some consider to be bad, like robots murdering everyone on earth.
The debate on Watson and the future of A.I. is in full swing, with one of the most common questions being, "Can a machine have the emotions of a human?"
This was addressed in the Bollywood film Robot and trust me, we do not want robots to be able to do things like get angry and fall in love. He didn't get the girl and a lot of people were killed along the way.
If, however, the question is being posed because women are wondering if they will ever be able to have a robot boyfriend, then it is a very pertinent question. I think that it would be pretty simple to program him just like a human man: to behave in such a way so that a female doesn't destroy him.
The lack of emotions may not be all bad. Watson's intelligence may outweigh the pleasure of things, such as getting in a fight with your human boyfriend.
It certainly wouldn't be the first time that a woman's happiness was fueled by batteries and imagination.