Well, we’re screwed

IBM’s Watson supercomputer won a practice round against Jeopardy champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter and raised a lot of questions about the capabilities of artificial intelligence.

Watson, a four-year effort by IBM, was quicker on the draw, didn’t fall prey to emotion and had a voice that could be confused for wayward computer Hal 9000 from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. For IBM, Watson is about tackling verticals and bringing hardware and analytics to the fore.

It’s very likely IBM’s Watson will win, from what I understand Watson is not doing voice recognition, Watson gets the questions asked electronically. Some will say it’s not a fair match until the questions are asked the same way, perhaps that doesn’t matter – but what does matter is IBM will eventually beat the pants off us humans AGAIN and not share how they did it with human kind. We’ve previously asked, begged and guilted IBM about open sourcing Deep Blue, the chess computer that beat us humans, but we’ve not been able to find anyone who even knows where or if it exists. A retired engineer from IBM joked with me at Maker Faire saying “Lenovo has the real Deep Blue in a special room where all the execs hang out, in China”. Lenovo acquired IBM’s ThinkPad laptop line in 2005 for approximately $1.75 billion.

A fun quote from the article about Watson…

Rutter said Watson can be a bit overwhelming. Jennings and Rutter quipped about how computer capabilities are part of human advancement, but acknowledged that they were a bit uncomfortable. Jennings said he “didn’t want technology to advance that far just yet.” When John Kelly III, director of IBM Research reminded Jennings and Rutter that computer and human intelligence were at an intersection point and computing would only improve, Rutter quipped: “So we’re all extinct.”

If Watson beats us, like Deep Blue did – will we ever be able to see how? 10 years from now, ever? Shouldn’t kids of today be tinkering with their own Deep Blue in a virtual machine? There’s nothing magical about a super Chess computer or Google-like IBM interface for answering trivia questions but each time a human vs machine bout happens shouldn’t there also be a time when we share how it’s done so we can do it better, or come up with something that’s a bigger challenge? Or figure out a question a computer will never be able to answer?

I know there will be some comments like “who cares!” but think about the people (and machines) 100 years from now, I’m betting both would want to know how this all happened. We have a unique opportunity to comment the fossil record /*

So before I end this plea to IBM, how about this – IBM, you bring Watson to Maker Faire bay Area 2011 in May, last year we had over 80,000 attend – think of all the next-generation scientists and engineers that will be there to inspire.

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IBM supercomputer ‘”Watson” to challenge “Jeopardy” stars.

Also check out the great video on Engadget.