Posted by: joha5 | January 17, 2011

Elementary, My Dear (Jeopardy Supercomputer) Watson

Perhaps you have read the news that in February, for the first time ever, a computer will compete on Jeopardy!  You might remember when an IBM computer beat chess world champion Garry Kasparov in a six-game match in 1997. IBM’s latest challenge was to build upon that feat by taking technology to an even more difficult and complex level – building a computer that processes natural language, complete with humor, irony and sarcasm, as well as nuances, regionalisms and slang.

Stupid Watson. If he was any more complex I would fall in love with him.

Having apparently met that challenge, Watson will compete against Jeopardy! champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter on February 14 through the 16, 2011.  The computer, named Watson after IBM’s founder, was developed by technologists and researchers from around the world.  While its debut on Jeopardy! will make a big splash, the goal of the technology is ultimately to forge more advanced communication between humans and computers. This goal undoubtedly will harvest scientific and societal benefits in fields ranging from healthcare to customer service.

However, I cannot help wondering what practical applications Watson might offer if ever the technology became available at the consumer level.  How long before the next software release coming out of Redmond, Washington, will include Microsoft Irony, an application to detect, interpret, even insert rhetorical nuances in interpersonal and corporate communications?  Could Watson displace humor columnists and bloggers? Will we turn on our televisions and see Watson sitting behind Andy Rooney’s desk on 60 Minutes?  Personally, I am hoping Watson will be smart–and courageous–enough to tell Jeopardy! clue-writers to put the periods and commas inside the quotation marks, where they belong.

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