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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Artificial Intelligence (AI)... why didn't I think of that?

As if we haven't got enough ourselves, we have been trying to come up with artificial intelligence for years. Dr. Frankenstein thought he had something going with his monster. Hmm. Maybe he just got the wrong brain to transplant. (Abe-normal, for all you Young Frankenstein fans.)

Then there was Robby of the 1968 TV series (and later movie), Lost in Space. Robby was a Class M-3 Model B9, General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Control Robot, with superhuman strength and futuristic weaponry. Robby laughed, could be sad and was able to mock his humans (as if that is so hard). His favorite line: "Danger! Danger Will Robinson." He sang and playing guitar too... and he did a great Elvis impersonation, thankyouverrrymuch!

Can't forget HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick. HAL was capable of speech recognition, natural language understanding, lip reading and could beat humans at chess. HAL also killed its astronaut crew before (figuratively) his plug is pulled. So much for that try.

Of course, these are just a few of the fictional AI bots.

Both Robby and HAL are in the Robot Hall of Fame (yes, there really is one). Other honorees include LEGO® MINDSTORMS®, Lt. Cmdr. Data, AIBO, David, SCARA, Maria, ASTRO BOY, Shakey, C-3PO (of course), Gort, Mars Pathfinder Sojourner Rover, R2-D2 and Unimate. No WALL-e yet. He must have been caught betting on robot games.

Ever notice that many smart robot names are all caps? "Maybe that, JERRY," I say to myself, "is a sign of super intelligence.

Then there are the real attempts... IBM's Deep Blue, programed to defeat Chess Grandmaster Gary Kasparov in 1997. Deep Blue got its "smarts" by crunching millions of mathematical possibilities to determine the best possible move. It worked. But that is all Deep Blue could do... play chess. So maybe that makes it the absolute "idiot savant"--a term which has been rephrased autistic savant-- because it was dumb as a box of burnt-out tubes about absolutely anything else. "

Who is buried in Grant's Tomb?"

"Pawn to knight3."

See.

And today, there is a new, more interesting contender... Watson, another IBM machine named for the company's founder, Thomas J. Watson. Watson's advantage is that he doesn't have to know the answers... all he has to know are the questions.

Watson is going to be on Jeopardy the week of Feb. 14. When Alec Trebek introduces the contestants, it will be Ken Jennings (who won more Jeopardy games than anyone else) and Brad Rutter (who won more money on the show than anyone else) against the big blue box. Winner gets $1 million which, if it is Watson, would make him the Bill Gates of 'Bot World.'

Watson is ready. The big guy is a room-sized system powered by 90 servers and 360 computer chips... with 15 terabytes of random-access memory! That is 15,000 gigabytes, or 14,996 more than I have on my MacBook Pro. Watson has been fed encyclopedias, dictionaries, books, news, movie scripts and more... about 200 million pages of content! He also has algorithms to measure the level of confidence in his response to decide whether he should hit the buzzer. 

Watson has been taught (programed) to buzz and answer, with a simulated masculine voice, in the form of a question. Watson claims to know slang, contemporary jargon, trivia, subtleties of language, puns and riddles.  In a practice game, the category was "Chicks Dig Me." The answer: "Kathleen Kenyon's excavation of this city mentioned in Joshua shows that the walls had been repaired 17 times." Watson buzzed in first with "What is Jericho?" Bingo!

Next answer: "He was the 16th president of the United States." Watson again: What is Jericho? (Joke.)

Fear not human beings... Watson doesn't kill--to the best of the creators' knowledge-- nor does it play Wheel of Fortune. Lucky for us.

If this trend of creating artificial intelligence continues, we may not need monkeys any more.

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