My Inner Nerd Gets Excited: IBM’s Watson Wins Jeopardy

If you are not into computers, this topic might put you to sleep. 🙂

From Valentine’s Day, Monday February 14, until Wednesday February 16, 2011, two former Jeopardy Champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter battled a computer. And not just any computer. It was a machine hundreds of people from IBM and several prestigious colleges across the country worked on for over four years in order to create a Jeopardy Champion.

In hindsight, it sounds almost ridiculous that a massive corporation listed on the NYSE (as it’s still known of as for now) would devote over $30 million for a chance to have its software, hardware, staff and reputation devoted to one challenge: beat humans on a televised game show.

It seemed simple, Watson was going to perform the same feat as Google did for millions, right? You enter a query and it’ll return the first hit. However, the difference is massive. Watson never accesses the internet. It doesn’t phone home. It is a standalone machine. All the data it needs is stored in its database. Practically the entire Library of Congress is stored inside its hardware. That is millions of books. Millions and millions of words. Google finds data based on page ranking, web sites with the most links which determines popularity, and other unknown algorithms.

Plus, Google doesn’t respond with the nice voice that Watson has.

Yeah, that’s one of the key differences with this machine: Watson speaks! He, er, it asks for the next clue when its turn is up! It even says, Please!

Watching the show for the three days it aired, all I thought of was inquisitive HAL from the movie 2001, the Cyborg from the first Terminator movie (that scared the daylights out of me), the fussy sounding, talking car named Kitt from the television show Nightrider, and the informative, perfunctory computer from Star Trek (the original) and Star Trek: TNG.

Watson was able to understand the near intuitive based quirk of a Jeopardy “answer” in order to submit a “question”. It understands natural (spoken) language and the nature of a riddle. I read that the machine used to take two hours to process a question eventually getting down to under three seconds, because it can learn.

After Watson calculated an answer, he ranked it, indicating a level of self-confidence. If it was over a threshold like 50%, Watson pressed the buzzer. The machine also wagered for the last round – the final Jeopardy question.

It received all questions via text, but in the future Watson will be able to listen and probably see. That’s creepy.

I celebrate the technological advance, but I’m also freaked out by it.

I wasn’t surprised to see HAL, er, Watson win. He spanked both men with $77147, much higher than the combined winnings of $24,000 (Jennings) and $21,600 (Ruttner). However, no one went home empty handed. Watson received $1 million, all of which was donated to charity. The two men split their winnings with charity 50-50: Jennings won $300,000, and Rutter won $200,000. I liked the joke Ken Jennings offered during the final question, “I, for one, welcome our computer overlords.”

I don’t know if I do. However, I do appreciate this technological breakthrough in computing power. In a few years, we may all have our own personal Watson on our smart phones, smart pads, and whatever other technological tools come our way. The danger and the reward in this new technology, is that the more it helps us think, solve problems and delves deeper into complex situations – the less human beings and our intuitions are required.

With one hand technology giveth, and with the other it taketh.

I suppose the only way to stay ahead is to adapt, find the areas where we can offer assistance, be innovative, and continue to do things in areas where technology cannot take our place: creativity and ingenuity. Well, at least for now.

Let’s hope they keep Watson from becoming self-aware, emotional … and away from the military. Especially predator drones. 🙂

Geek Notes: I found out it was mostly programmed in Java and C++. Wow. I had Java and a bit of C++ in school. Those aren’t easy languages to understand. Maybe I’ll take another shot at Java one day.

Update: Video Clip – How Watson Works by Dr. Ferrucci of IBM. Mentions the compter from Star Trek: TNG, which he wanted to emulate.

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In search of …

Gettin’ Outta Here

Oh, I cannot wait until I leave this country!

I look forward to detoxing from the Internet, being around different people (instead of the same ol’ same), and just enjoying myself. I promise myself, when I return I will read very few blogs – like a handful, nothing political, or outside of natural hair content.

I will stick to researching topics that interest me. I always have a number of questions that I require answers to. I don’t feel as though my searching abilities are as good as they should be. Also, I am going to cleaning up my Delicious account by removing a lot of links. I am becoming overwhelmed.

My travel plans are coming together. I am so excited!

Sprucing Up

I might get a pedicure and manicure, before I leave. I usually don’t paint my toes or fingernails. I do keep them filed, neat, and short. They are very soft, and breaks easily, like my hair; my skin is very soft too.

I don’t paint my nails, because I have an aversion to the odor of any (possibly) toxic chemical. I have an acute sense of smell (sometimes). I limit my use of powerful – will knock you unconscious – smelling bathroom cleaners. I try to use milder, innocuous, “natural” products.

Gadgets

I’m tempted to buy a netbook, mini-laptop, PDA, or another cell phone. I am leaving my laptop behind, and make do with what I have. I need to send my Palm Zire away for a new battery. I love that old device. I’ve yet to find anything to replace it.

A new toy?

I still have yet to find a reasonable replacement all-in-one device. Hewlett Packard has the HP iPAQ 910 Business Messenger. It’s close to what I want, but not exactly. It doesn’t have to be a cell phone. I want a PDA-type device that has: calendar, world clock, very loud alerts, camera, Internet browsing, plays music, word processing, e-book readable (PDF files), read/write SD cards, and GPS. My Zire does all except for GPS, which isn’t necessary for now.

Interesting Sin(s)

My older brother has no love for Las Vegas. This fellow is truly a remarkable, stable, family man. He doesn’t drive fast, curse, gamble, or drink: He goes to church every week and prays. He’s my exact opposite! And that’s why I love him so much.

As for me, each week, I aim for every one of the deadly sins, and feel bad when I miss a couple.

You could not pay me (enough) to go to church. I left that institution at around 11/12 years old. The only times I have been back is for weddings, and the holidays, which mercifully, have been few and far between. I have my reasons for not praying.

I’d go back yearly if I could, to Las Vegas, that is. I don’t think I’ve seen enough to be bored with yet. I like to go, because the place is very, very amusing. It makes me laugh. It’s getting harder to do that now-a-days. I don’t gamble either, although I would like to know how to play poker. I still drink, but I can’t handle it like I used to. (Said with much regret.)

It’s strange, I find Vodka easier to manage than Champagne or wine. I remember at a vineyard a host saying that a lot companies put cheap chemicals in the batches to “fix” a bad crop yield, or speed up the curing process. I believe it. I’ve had experienced enough bad drinks.

Language Tricks

I have no language skills, but I’m wondering if brushing up on a few words wouldn’t hurt. Where’s the bathroom? Are the most important words I need to know.

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Random Thoughts for Today

Cruelty

I had someone tell me that they used to kill – for fun! – newborn kittens as a child or teenager. In doing so they remind me to never underestimate the cruelty of people. So when I am informed about the endless list of harmful acts folks commit against the helpless, I am not surprised.

By the way, the kitten killer in this story was a woman.

It was definitely not something I ever did as a child or teen. I also never fought with anyone after I turned eleven; I didn’t need to. I wonder about people who fought or fight as teens or adults: something is wrong with you.

So no, I don’t buy the notion, and never have, that women are the kinder, gentler sex. It’s a myth. Oftentimes, the worst misogynists I’ve encountered are women.

Podcasts

I love listening to Podcasts. I bought a refurbished iPod a while ago and download mostly positive personal growth (and finance!) stories. It may take a while to sink in, but I believe these stories penetrate the subconscious for the better.

I know they affect my mood and sense of well being.

Computer Spare Parts

My computer died on me (again!). So far, that’s three computers and one laptop I no longer use. The hard disks still function, along with some other their spare parts like memory, motherboards, video cards, etc. I need to take the machines apart and catalog what I can use.

I will either put all the hard drives into external enclosures so as to rip my entire CD collection, or put them together into one PC tower case and start to build anew. I have to see which choice is cheaper and less of a hassle. There are many good options available to me.

Has My Hair Stopped Growing?

I honestly don’t know, but it sure feels like it. I haven’t measured it by way of a picture in a while, yet comparing at a glance to a picture from February, I’d say it is the same length.

Oh, well.

I’m not babying it as much as I did last year. I mean, how much can a woman obsess about hair? If it gets longer, it’ll get there on its own schedule. I have to live with that.

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