Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Enjoy Every Sandwich (Watson on Jeopardy)

This week on the game show Jeopardy, an IBM supercomputer named Watson is competing against two (human) Jeopardy champions. Amid the endless buffet of commentary, I especially liked this soundbite from my longtime friend Jonathan Allen, quoted on San Francisco’s KPIX news:

Reporter: JP Allen of the University of San Francisco says don’t forget, this is also a moment to celebrate human intelligence.

JP Allen: You’re talking about millions of dollars of technology, 42 geniuses working for 4 years to get this working and still, it’s competing against a guy who had a sandwich for lunch.

1 comment:

  1. I think Allen may have been thinking of Asimov's "Cutie the Robot" when he made his sandwich comment:
    From I Robot by Issac Asimov:
    Cutie continued imperturbably, "And the question that immediately arose was: Just what is the cause of my existence?"
    Powell's jaw set lumpily. "You're being foolish. I told you already that we made you."
    "And if you don't believe us," added Donovan, "we'll gladly take you apart!"
    The robot spread his strong hands in a deprecatory gesture, "I accept nothing on authority. A hypothesis must be backed by reason, or else it is worthless - and it goes against all the dictates of logic to suppose that you made me."
    Powell dropped a restraining arm upon Donovan's suddenly bunched fist. "Just why do you say that?"
    Cutie laughed. It was a very inhuman laugh - the most machine-like utterance he had yet given vent to. It was sharp and explosive, as regular as a metronome and as uninflected.
    "Look at you," he said finally. "I say this in no spirit of contempt, but look at you! The material you are made of is soft and flabby, lacking endurance and strength, depending for energy upon the inefficient oxidation of organic material - like that." He pointed a disapproving finger at what remained of Donovan's sandwich. "Periodically you pass into a coma and the least variation in temperature, air pressure, humidity, or radiation intensity impairs your efficiency. You are _makeshift_.
    "I, on the other hand, am a finished product. I absorb electrical energy directly and utilize it with an almost one hundred percent efficiency. I am composed of strong metal, am continuously conscious, and can stand extremes of environment easily. These are facts which, with the self-evident proposition that no being can create another being superior to itself, smashes your silly hypothesis to nothing."