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Jad Chambers Blog Archive



All Hail Our Robot Masters

Just getting ready for what’s coming.  I’ve been following a story for a month or so now about engineers at IBM who are making a new supercomputer.  They have designed the computer to play the popular television game show Jeopardy.  Not a video game that people can play Jeopardy ON, a computer capable of competing against human opponents in a REAL game of Jeopardy.  Now, many people out there (especially those who don’t know much about computers) may say “big deal.”  But anyone who knows anything about how computers work knows that if it works it would be a SIGNIFICANT ACCOMPLISHMENT in computer design.

Think about it, it’s not just uploading encyclopedia knowledge onto a computer hard drive.  The computer has to respond to the question asked of it.  Remember, you lose points for a wrong answer.  So the computer has to analyze the question and determine the probability of whether or not it can give a correct answer.  If the chances are too great that it will miss, it has to determine risk/benefit determined on how much money is at stake and whether or not to even answer the question.

All of that before a human player can press a button.  Then of course it still has to answer the question right.  Keep in mind that Jeopardy also uses puns and wordplay in its questions and categories.  You know, “BirdBooks” all the answers have a bird in the title and things like that.  Also, encyclopedia knowledge would not contain questions about popular culture, which do show up on as questions on Jeopardy.

Or should I say an answer.  Yeah, Jeopardy has that rule switching questions and answers.  But a computer can easily remember to answer in the form of a question.  It’s likely the easiest problem the IBM designers had to overcome.  Don’t get me started on how amazing a computer would have to be to negotiate the Daily Double and Final Jeopardy.  Risking an amount of money based upon its knowledge of the category.  It’s a computer that can GAMBLE.

But its first public challenge will be far from easy.  Representing human beings in the struggle to remain the dominant intelligence on the planet will be Ken Jennings, who won a record 74 consecutive "Jeopardy!" games in 2004-05, and Brad Rutter, who won a record of nearly $3.3 million in prize money.  IBM’s pretty confident I guess.  I’m a sci-fi aficionado and a traditional computer type geek.  Terminator, The Matrix, even Frank Herbert’s Dune are all stories about a computer takeover of the human race.  Well, Dune is the result hundreds of years after such a takeover and allegory of several pretty significant current events, but you get the idea.  If these stories are any indication, we should all be rooting for Ken and Brad.

Now those stories are fiction, and the robot revolution obviously won’t happen.   But it is a little scary… isn’t it?

Until next time…



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01/13/2011 9:19AM
All Hail Our Robot Masters
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