first out-calculated us in simple math. Then they replaced us on the
assembly lines, explored places we couldn’t get to, even beat our
champions at chess. Now a computer called Watson has bested our best at
gigantic computer created by IBM specifically to excel at
answers-and-questions left two champs of the TV game show in its silicon
dust after a three-day tournament, a feat that experts call a
earned $77,147, versus $24,000 for Ken Jennings and $21,600 for Brad
Rutter. Jennings took it in stride writing “I for one welcome our new
computer overlords” alongside his correct Final Jeopardy answer.
In this photo provided by Jeopardy Productions, Inc., Ken Jennings, left, and Brad Rutter, right, pose after the episode of “Jeopardy!” that aired Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011, when Watson, the IBM-created megabrain, beat the veteran champs with a total of $77, 147 over two exhibition matches. For crushing his rivals, Watson gets a total prize of $1 million, which IBM has said will go to the charities World Vision and World Community Grid. The vanquished Jennings and Rutter get $300,000 and $200,000, respectively, half of which each said they would be donating to charities. (AP Photo/Jeopardy Productions, Inc.)
next step for the IBM machine and its programmers: taking its mastery
of the arcane and applying it to help doctors plow through blizzards of
medical information. Watson could also help make Internet searches far
more like a conversation than the hit-or-miss things they are now.
Watson’s victory leads to the question: What can we measly humans do that amazing machines cannot do or will never do?
answer, like all of “Jeopardy!,” comes in the form of a question: Who —
not what — dreamed up Watson? While computers can calculate and
construct, they cannot decide to create. So far, only humans can.
way to think about this is: Can Watson decide to create Watson?” said
Pradeep Khosla, dean of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in
Pittsburgh. “We are far from there. Our ability to create is what allows
us to discover and create new knowledge and technology.”
in the field say it is more than the spark of creation that separates
man from his mechanical spawn. It is the pride creators can take, the
empathy we can all have with the winners and losers, and that magical
mix of adrenaline, fear and ability that kicks in when our backs are
against the wall and we are in survival mode.
humans have that Watson, IBM’s earlier chess champion Deep Blue, and
all their electronic predecessors and software successors do not have
and will not get is the sort of thing that makes song, romance, smiles,
sadness and all that jazz. It’s something the experts in computers,
robotics and artificial intelligence know very well because they can’t
figure out how it works in people, much less duplicate it. It’s that
indescribable essence of humanity.
Nevertheless, Watson, which took 25 IBM scientists four years to create, is more than just a trivia whiz, some experts say.
Doherty, a computer industry expert and research director at the
Envisioneering Group in Seaford, N.Y., said he has been studying
artificial intelligence for decades. He thinks IBM’s advances with
Watson are changing the way people think about artificial intelligence
and how a computer can be programmed to give conversational answers —
not merely lists of sometimes not-germane entries.
is the most significant breakthrough of this century,” he said. “I know
the phones are ringing off the hook with interest in Watson systems.
The Internet may trump Watson, but for this century, it’s the most
significant advance in computing.”
And yet Watson’s creators say this breakthrough gives them an extra appreciation for the magnificent machines we call people.
see human intelligence consuming machine intelligence, not the other
way around,” David Ferrucci, IBM’s lead researcher on Watson, said in an
interview Wednesday. “Humans are a different sort of intelligence. Our
intelligence is so interconnected. The brain is so incredibly
interconnected with itself, so interconnected with all the cells in our
body, and has co-evolved with language and society and everything around
are learning machines that live and experience the world and take in an
enormous amount of information — what they see, what they taste, what
they feel, and they’re taking that in from the day they’re born until
the day they die,” he said. “And they’re learning from all the input all
the time. We’ve never even created something that attempts to do that.”
ability of a machine to learn is the essence of the field of artificial
intelligence. And there have been great advances in the field, but
nothing near human thinking.
been in this field for 25 years and no matter what advances we make,
it’s not like we feel we’re getting to the finish line,” said Carnegie
Mellon University professor Eric Nyberg, who has worked on Watson with
its IBM creators since 2007. “There’s always more you can do to bring
computers to human intelligence. I’m not sure we’ll ever really get
Massey, a professor of computer science at Portland State University,
quipped: “If you want to build something that thinks like a human, we
have a great way to do that. It only takes like nine months and it’s
on computer evolution “really makes you appreciate the fact that humans
are such unique things and they think such unique ways,” Massey said.
said it is silly to think that Watson will lead to an end or a
lessening of humanity. “Watson does just one task: answer questions,” he
said. And it gets things wrong, such as saying grasshoppers eat kosher,
which Nyberg said is why humans won’t turn over launch codes to it or
its computer cousins.
Tuesday’s Final Jeopardy, which Watson flubbed and its human
competitors handled with ease. The category was U.S. cities, and the
clue was: “Its largest airport is named for a World War II hero; its
second largest, for a World War II battle.”
The correct response was Chicago, but Watson weirdly wrote, “What is Toronto?????”
human would have considered Toronto and discarded it because it is a
Canadian city, not a U.S. one, but that’s not the type of comparative
knowledge Watson has, Nyberg said.
human working with Watson can get a better answer,” said James Hendler,
a professor of computer and cognitive science at Rensselaer Polytechnic
Institute. “Using what humans are good at and what Watson is good at,
together we can build systems that solve problems that neither of us can
why Paul Saffo, a longtime Silicon Valley forecaster, and others, see
better search engines as the ultimate benefit from the
are headed toward a world where you are going to have a conversation
with a machine,” Saffo said. “Within five to10 years, we’ll look back
and roll our eyes at the idea that search queries were a string of
answers and not conversations.”
beneficiaries, IBM’s Ferrucci said, could include technical support
centers, hospitals, hedge funds or other businesses that need to make
lots of decisions that rely on lots of data.
example, a medical center might use the software to better diagnose
disease. Since a patient’s symptoms can generate many possibilities, the
advantage of a Watson-type program would be its ability to scan the
medical literature faster than a human could and suggest the most likely
result. A human, of course, would then have to investigate the
computer’s finding and make the final diagnosis.
isn’t saying how much money it spent building Watson. But Doherty said
the company told analysts at a recent meeting that the figure was around
$30 million. Doherty believes the number is probably higher, in the
“high dozens of millions.”
a few years, Carnegie Mellon University robotic whiz Red Whittaker will
be launching a robot to the moon as part of Google challenge. When it
lands, the robot will make all sorts of key and crucial real-time
decisions — like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin did 42 years ago — but
what humans can do that machines can’t will already have been done:
Create the whole darn thing.
Technology Writer Barbara Ortutay contributed to this story from New
York. Robertson reported from San Francisco and Borenstein reported from
Online: IBM’s Watson: http://tinyurl.com/4r8w6gr
SOURCE: Associated Press