Human intelligence far superior but robots in hot pursuit
Posted on February 23rd, 2011

By Philip Fernando, former Deputy Editor, Sunday Observer

 IBM’s giant-sized robot “Watson”-named after its founder, faced two champions of the TV general knowledge-quiz “Jeopardy” and clobbered them at a 3-day event held in New York. However, when asked the tricky question under the category American cities, it flunked. The question was “Its largest airport is named for a World War II hero; it’s second largest for a World War II battle,” Watson answered “Toronto” instead of Chicago.

 He failed to recognize the distinguishing category “ƒ”¹…”US cities’ even though he had being loaded with unlimited data on airports compared to the two men.

 Both Toronto and Chicago had 2 airports named after a war activist and an event. The robot inferred that Toronto is part of the North American continent, so the confusion””‚Canadians were not amused-a triumphant moment for human brain said one of them.

 A fan of Watson said that it must have had enough data inside about Toronto riots when the G20 summit was held there, hence the gaffe. The two men got it right.

 Super computer Watson comprised 3,000 computers and took four years to build – quite a tribute to the capacity of the human brain which is thousand times smaller than Watson that filled the entire room.

 Computers stumped by semantics

 A computer can be made to absorb almost an unlimited vocabulary of words, phrases, names of people, events and places using syntactic rules to manipulate symbol strings, but have no understanding of meaning or semantics, said one follower of the game.

 To come even close to the human brain, artificial intelligence must be programmed to include almost infinite psychological traits, including linguistic abilities and nuanced meanings of words human beings use as a matter of course.

 To answer a simple question “what time is “sunset” expressed as dusk, close of day or other divergent way human beings expressed sunset– the computer equated those terms to “the degrees earth has revolved away from the sun at a given geographic location””‚and all that needed to be programmed.

 It might eventually be possible to program robots to recognize the zillion variations of speech we use in everyday life but that final super computer would occupy immense space””‚and take an era to assemble.

 Others counter that it was possible to map the entire earth as Google did, so feeding the vast and divergent nuances of speech may not be that long.

 The debate regarding artificial intelligence with broad implications to include functionalistic and computational theories of meaning and of mind would be waged for the next decade.

 Precursor of actual intelligence

 What’s ahead is how Watson or the humanoid computer fares in the next decade–can it read and comprehend? Not just recite text, but actually teach itself””‚as humans do– or assimilate and process data, without a programmer’s input.

 That was impressive enough food for human thought. Is Watson the precursor, the true ancestor, of the super-intelligence machines that futurists predicted would become full partners, even superiors, at helping humans labour and create?

 Watson showed itself to be imperfect, but researchers at I.B.M. are already developing uses for Watson’s technologies that could have a significant impact on the way doctors practice and consumers buy products. Once they get addicted to robots, human beings would just cling on to them.

 Fallibility exposed

 Meanwhile millions watched with glee Watson’s personal doubt lurking inside. Those moments usually never occur in a game testing knowledge or facts, facts and more facts. Watson beat the two men 2 to 1 in the time taken to click indicating readiness to answer the questions.

 But to nuanced queries Watson showed hesitancy dismally. Another time Watson answered “Picasso” when the question was about a period in the history of paining.

 The audience groaned and laughed sympathetically as Watson dwarfing the two men””‚ a discreet graphic presence on stage “”‚ showed some fallibility.

Watson could not Google for forgotten minutiae like the rest of us at home. All there was what the engineers put inside. Watson seemed flustered at times and showed marks of self-doubt, as if looking for a brow to furrow.

One Response to “Human intelligence far superior but robots in hot pursuit”

  1. Wickrama Says:

    Computeers should be designed and used to assist human beings in their tasks and not to imitate or replace humans.

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