Friday, February 18, 2011

“Cheap Publicity Stunts” for $1,000, Alex

""""Every article about Watson, IBM’s Jeopardy!-playing device, should really lead off with the sentence “It’s the year 2011, for God’s sake.” In the wondrous science-fiction future we occupy, even human brains have instant broadband access to a staggeringly comprehensive library of general knowledge. But the horrible natural-language skills of a computer, even one with an essentially unlimited store of facts, still compromise its function to the point of near-parity in a trivia competition against unassisted humans. Surely this isn’t a triumph for artificial intelligence, or for IBM, so much as it is a self-administered black eye?

Jeopardy!, after all, doesn’t demand that much in the way of language interpretation. Watson has to, at most, interpret text questions of no more than 25 or 30 words—questions which, by design, have only a single answer. It handles puns and figures of speech impressively, for a computer. But it doesn’t do so in anything like the way humans do. IBM’s ads would have you believe the opposite, but it bears emphasizing that Watson is not “getting” the jokes and wordplay of the Jeopardy! writers. It’s using Bayesian math on the fly to pick out key nouns and phrases and pass them to a lookup table. If it sees “1564″ and “Pisa”, it’s going to say “Galileo”....."""""

Cosh may be a tad cynical but he understands that simulation, a data-base and processing speed do not a human-mind make. Watson was somewhat impressive in terms of response time (though sounded rather...HAL-like) but more or less a search engine with a spiffy screensaver. Granted, the language/semantic programming required some work: it's not the strictly quantitative inquiries (what is Pi to 50 decimals OR whats the best move in a particular chess position, etc) that poses challenges as much as ...something like inference-- the qualitative. Yet as Cosh notes, Watson's not understanding anything--merely associating words and phrases with what the Bayesian app. spits out as the best matches, muy rapido. In that sense Watson's hardly different than Google--just a SE that speaks.

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