“I for one welcome our new computer overlords,” wrote former Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings on the answer to his Final Jeopardy question as he conceded his defeat to the IBM supercomputer Watson. No matter who you were rooting for, it was indeed an historic day: February 16, 2011 will mark the day a computer bet its human opponents at Jeopardy. For more on the Jeopardy win, check out the article on ZDNet, as well as this excellent piece at PCWorld.
While the feat may seem trivial (literally) to some, as Jeopardy is after all just a trivia game show, the point is not about winning Jeopardy but about successfully processing human language. Indeed, computer processing of human language has been the “holy grail” of computing, which has been endlessly vexed by the complexities of context, meaning, puns, sarcasm, and all the other subtleties that ape-like meatbags… I mean, humans… use in casual conversation. Watson has demonstrated that the technology and software exists to process human language with a reasonable degree of success.
But the IBM Jeopardy Challenge was not a contest of man-against-machine. Fundamentally, Watson is a highly sophisticated language parsing and search engine program running on an impressive array of hardware. In truth, the contest was between Ken Jennings vs. Brad Rutter vs. all the programmers, engineers, software architects, and computer scientists who built Watson (all humans, by the way). This victory is a triumph for them, not for Watson itself. It is also a victory for our technological progress in the field of computer science.
I’d also like to add that Watson runs on Linux.
IBM’s Watson page has this to say on the victory: “The challenge is over. Watson, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter concluded their final round of Jeopardy! and the winner was… resoundingly, humankind. Watson’s advances in deep analytics and its ability to process unstructured data and interpret natural language will now be applied to humanity’s most vexing problems. If we can teach a computer to compete on Jeopardy! what could it mean for science, finance, healthcare and the future of society?”
I for one welcome our new natural language processing computers.