Impersonating our new computer overlords

February 18, 2011
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There’s been a lot of news recently (here in the US at least) of the triumph of the supercomputer “Watson” over two human competitors in the TV game show, “Jeopardy!”.

There’s been a lot of news recently (here in the US at least) of the triumph of the supercomputer “Watson” over two human competitors in the TV game show, “Jeopardy!”. It’s an absolute triumph in computer science and natural lanuage processing, which you can read about it here, here, and especially here in the reflections of one of the human competitors, Ken Jennings. An episode on NOVA on Watson’s design and creation is also available on-line, but I particularly liked the intersection of art and analytics that went into the design of Watson’s avatar in this clip from IBM Research:

 

Watson’s avatar, though beautiful, is clearly non-human. And Watson would most likely fail the standard Turing Test: if you were to read the transcript of the Jeopardy! closed-captions on Watson’s answers you might suspect that the player Watson isn’t human: when it (occasionally) failed, it failed in very non-human ways.

So how far away are we from fielding a computer that can pass a Turing test, and in five minutes of text messaging convince a panel of experts that it’s a more convincing human than an actual, human rival? Not that far off, it turns out. In the Atlantic, journalist and poet Brian Christan recounts how he competes in a real live Turing Test and discovers that the challenge isn’t so much for the machines to imitate humans, but for the humans to resemble, well, themselves. When our computer overlords inevitably take over, will we find ourselves ultimately trying to resemble them?

(Incidentally, Alan Turing, after whom the Turing Test is named, is a hero of mine and so I’m very excited that a documentary about his life is in the works.)

The Atlantic: Mind vs. Machine (via)