Sunday, November 20, 2011

Are You Smarter Than a Computer?

Watson playing Jeopardy against 2 sad, insufficiently smart humans
I will start off with NO, you are not smarter than a computer - at least at Jeopardy.

I went to a talk about a computer called Watson made by IBM at the computer history museum.  It is a computer that plays Jeopardy.  It has over 2000 cores running at 3.25Ghz and 15Tb of ram.  The actual database of all the information it uses for it's choices is only about 100Gb. It includes all all sorts of documents including a full copy of Wikipedia and several dictionaries and thesauruses. 

Afterwards Watson played against some Jeopardy contestants.  It is really cool and annoying to watch it trounce the human competition including the 500 people in the audience.  After Waston got in the lead, whenever a human contestant would buzz in incorrectly, the host would let them have a second chance.  The contestants even started listening to the crowd's answers.  The crowd could see a display that showed what Watson thought of as the top answers.  It became 500+ people against a computer, and even while cheating off of Waston's display we lost by a significant amount. 

It was sort of scary watching a computer dominate this game of human trivia questions.  This computer does not even "know" what a TV is and still can answer the questions about TV shows better than any human who has watched those shows.  This is rather depressing, but maybe the technology will eventually help us get better medical diagnosis, and legal advice. 

Wikipedia has a good article on IBM Watson: