Jeopardy! Will Machine Beat Man and Rule the World?

Jeopardy champions Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings are locked in an epic battle with Watson--an IBM supercomputer--for the fate of humanity and the future of planet Earth. OK, they're actually only battling over trivia game show bragging rights, but what does it say about the future of humanity if Watson wins? It gives a whole new meaning to "final Jeopardy."

You can't ignore the signs. It's in all the movies. Technology eventually gets to a point of self-awareness and autonomy and realizes that mankind is imperfect and obsolete. That is how we end up with Skynet, the Matrix, and the invasion of the Borg. Maybe those Luddites are on to something.

I spoke with Stephen Baker, author of Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything. For starters, Baker shared his belief that the computer has a distinct advantage over man when it comes to straight trivia questions--those involving specific names, dates, and numbers. As round one showed, though, the computer can stumble on questions involving more complex word play.

I asked Baker what the implications are for the man vs. machine battle of wits. Are our machines actually getting smarter than us?

"The machines are by no means smarter than us," Baker said. "But they have a remarkable power to read thousands upon thousands of documents with greatly increased sophistication, and come up with potential answers. We humans need this kind of help, because we're drowning in the information we're producing."

If we set aside the science fiction fears of digital overlords ruling the Earth, or worse--eradicating the cancer that is humanity from the planet--those powerful computers have some tremendous benefit. For example, we can search entire lifetimes' worth of data and information in a matter of seconds.

"Humans historically have been limited to what they can read and learn from friends and colleagues," Baker said. "This is a piddling amount of information. What's more, few of us are able to study outside of our domain. Coronary specialists, for example, aren't likely to read the latest studies about the liver or the brain. Machines can cross disciplines. This is important, because often the answers we're looking for draw from numerous domains."

Baker summed up, "Unlike humans, Watson cannot come up with original ideas. It cannot create theories. It cannot hold its own in a conversation. It's a highly sophisticated tool, but a tool all the same."

Apparently, resistance is not least not yet.

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