What is the end of the world?
For some, it would be dedicating your life to appear on a TV game show. For others, it would be creating a machine that can prove itself better than anyone who dedicates their life to appear on a TV game show.
For myself, it seems clear that IBM has created something that will be the apogee of appointment television by honing a supercomputer to compete with the finest mailmen, insurance brokers, and nurses to prove that it can, well, find the question in the answer.
Yes, IBM's Watson is, according to The New York Times, to appear on "Jeopardy!"!
Eric Brown, Watson's research manager, said on the IBM video here embedded: "A question can be posed in natural language and, having read a whole bunch of information, data, documents, it can come up with a very precise answer to that question."
This does sound very slightly like a large box of Google with human tendencies.
One of the Watson team members describes it in extremely romantic terms. He posits the "Jeopardy!" appearance as a competition between a human, who is all "carbon and water," and Watson, rippling with its silicon and its unslippable disk.
There was a certain fascination with machine life when IBM's Deep Blue supercomputer began its forays into chess. However, chess is a game played largely by machines with arms, legs, and furrowed brows, save for that wonderfully, quintessentially human prodigy, Garry Kasparov.
However, the biggest hurdle machines have to overcome in truly glorious human pursuits such as "Jeopardy!" is to gain an instinctive appreciation for natural language.
It's the puns, the jokes, the linguistic idiosyncrasies that have tended to stifle the most ambitious of machines. However, Harry Friedman, executive producer of "Jeopardy!," was effusive in this IBM video. "I think we've gone from being impressed to blown away."
To which someone with a harsh disposition might mutter: "How does one get TV ratings?"
IBM's brains admit that they have two main fears: that Watson crashes. And, perhaps even worse than that, that he keeps getting everything wrong. Because we really can't scupper humans' enormous confidence in machines if they are suddenly exposed on a game show.
"Our responsibility to the scientific community is to push this technology as far as we possibly can," said Brown. I am more concerned about the technology's responsibility to TV game shows. We've already had the adult brain being severely undermined by Fox's "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader?"
Watson may even appear on "Jeopardy!" as early as this fall. Will it be a fall from grace for humanity? Or for the computer industry?