IBM computer to play Jeopordy!
55 years ago, when computer scientists first started looking at artificial intelligence, they decided that having a computer play chess effectively would be a pretty good measure of whether you could deem it smart or not. We solved that problem pretty effectively, but still don't feel as though we've really cracked artificial intelligence yet. So, how about this: a computer that plays the quiz game Jeopardy?
IBM came up with a supercomputer that can listen to the cryptic questions in Jeopardy and stand a pretty good chance of coming up with an answer faster than a human competitor. Next month, the computer, called Watson, will participate in a contest with two other players. But early tests suggest that the IBM machine could blow its human colleagues out of the water.
In the video of a test game between Watson and the other players, a black screen sits, like the monolith in 2001, behind a contestant's plinth, and answers questions on archaeology and literature. We shouldn't underestimate the meaning of this, technologically. The computer must listen to and interpret the words of a stranger, asking questions that in most conversations wouldn't make much sense at all. It must then process those words through thousands of algorithms to try and work out what the quizmaster is talking about, while also looking at potential answers using a vast database (the computer isn't connected to the Internet). And it has to do all this in real time, so that it can work out how confident it is in his answer, and decide whether to hit the buzzer or not.
IBM is no stranger to grand completing challenges. In 1996 and 1997, its supercomputer Deep Blue played chess games against world champion Garry Kasparov. IBM lost in 1996, but the computer defeated Kasparov in 1997, causing controversy after Kasparov accused IBM of cheating with human intervention. That match was later the subject of a movie.
Videos on IBM's site show that Watson isn't that smart - the machine gave a lot of wrong answers in trials as they struggled to get it right. But unless there is someone sitting behind a curtain and inputting the answers, though, the final result is remarkably impressive. I for one will be glued to my screen when this airs in February.
Danny Bradbury, MSN Tech & Gadgets