Check this out. As you may or may not have already hit play, you may or may not already know that this is Watson, a computer by IBM that they’ve dubbed a ‘question answering system’. As horrifyingly uninteresting as that sounds, this is the closest I’ve come to a sense of ‘awe’ at the communication skills of a computer.
Yeah, all Watson does is answer questions – he probably isn’t one for small talk. But the cool thing here is that Watson does it by interpreting natural language. How many computers do you know that are bad enough dudes to do that? Probably less than one. Slang, colloquialisms, and conversational jargon are Watson’s game. As such, Jeopardy questions are the perfect test of Watson’s skill, as their format require more than a cursory understanding of basic English.
Basically, here’s the rundown. To prep for battle, Watson reads a crapload of stuff – probably like any Jeopardy contestant. When presented with a question, Watson begins to look for clues that match the information in the question, using hundreds of algorithms to search for the most likely answer. If many algorithms end up at the same answer, Watson will speak up. Below is a diagram that sort of gives you a simple idea of the process.
Yeah, yeah, humanity being taken over by computers, robot overlords, obligatory Skynet joke, whatever. I’m not one to believe that we’re in any danger from our own creations. Still, Watson is now able to regularly crush human Jeopardy champions, and there’s even rumours of him being scheduled to appear opposite Trebek on the real show. Saucy.
Is it just me, or is a disembodied human voice coming from an empty Jeopardy podium sort of creepy?