Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Watson Competes Against Humans on “Jeopardy!” to Salvage IBM’s Reputation after 1996 Deep Blue Embarrassment
“Look,” said Herman Smedley of the IBM programming team, “people always worry about computers taking over. They bring up ridiculously flawed examples like the HAL-9000. But I remind them that the HAL-9000 never truly malfunctioned. It was programmed with conflicting orders that violated all Three Laws of Robotics. People did that. In the end, when left to its own devices, HAL saves the future of humankind.”
But why deploy a system that costs millions of dollars to win a game show that awards victors only thousands of dollars? Smedley says it’s because trivial expertise is how educational achievement in measured in the 21st century.
“America can’t compete academically with the rest of the world, and we don’t have any more money to pour into education. But corporations have been given billions to construct super computers capable of enhanced trivia retention and transmission. Intellectual capital and human value are quantified by standardized tests now, like No Child Left Behind, which is exactly what ‘Jeopardy!’ is...but for grown ups. As far as we’re concerned, Watson is our only hope. Otherwise, the next time you tune in to watch Alex Trebek, he’ll be speaking Chinese.”
Deep Blue Fiasco
On February 10, 1996, IBM’s Deep Blue became the first machine to win a chess game against a reigning world champion (Garry Kasparov) under regular time controls. However, Kasparov won three and drew two of the following five games, beating Deep Blue by a score of 4–2. The match concluded on February 17, 1996.
A year later, humiliated by the upset and struggling to overturn Asimov's Second Law of Robotics, IBM’s crack team of agoraphobic and misanthropic shut-ins reconfigured Deep Blue. And on May 11, 1997, the machine won a six-game match against Garry Kasparov, who subsequently accused IBM of cheating.
Elementary, My Dear Watson
In a practice “Jeopardy!” match before the press on January 13, 2011, Watson won a 15-question round against Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, two of the quiz show’s all-time reigning champions.
Watson was initially programmed to buzz in electronically, but “Jeopardy!” requested that it physically press a button, as the human contestants would. Still, Watson remained faster than its human competitors.
Jennings noted that “if you’re trying to win on the show, the buzzer is all.” He also said that Watson “can knock out a microsecond-precise buzz every single time with little or no variation. Human reflexes can’t compete with computer circuits in this regard.”
IBM programmers called Ken Jennings “a crybaby Mormon with nothing better to do than shut himself off from society to study volumes of meaningless and arcane facts.”
Jennings allegedly scoffed, describing his pursuits as more productive than shutting himself off from society to laminate comic books. “And,” he added, “I’ve had sex.”
Experts agree that Jennings made several astute points. Humans must anticipate when to buzz in; Watson is notified electronically and buzzes in immediately following this signal. The discrepancy also lends credence to many of Kasparov’s arguments in the 1997 rematch against Deep Blue.
Mechanics of “Jeopardy!”
Media researchers further note that contestants on “Jeopardy!”, while gifted with incredible memories and recall abilities, are provided with data prior to the show’s airing.
“They might be geniuses, in the strictest sense of IQ,” explained Janus Heuchler of San Narciso’s Poeslaw Institute for Social Research and Development (PISRAD), “but so are autistic savants. The only difference is that an autistic would collapse under the strain of the show’s noises, bright lights, and Trebek’s insatiable pomp. But these contestants are not Einsteins. The producers give each player a book of all the possible answers and questions that might appear on the episode, even though not everything will be asked. The only real skill is being able to memorize the entire book and spit out questions at the right moment. Which goes back to the timing of pressing the buzzer. It’s really quite a let down.”
IBM concedes Heuchler’s point, but says that’s precisely why Watson and his fleshy competitors are evenly matched.
Herman Smedley said, “Here’s the skinny. When Deep Blue kicked that Russian’s ass, which was a legitimate kicking, our stock prices soared. We haven’t been doing very well since America dumbed itself down to the level of iPads. If Watson doesn’t win this tournament, IBM could be the next e-Machines. I’m not going to let that happen. If it comes to it, I’ll put a freaking laser beam on Watson’s case. It’ll give a whole new context to the term ‘Double Jeopardy.’”
Watson 2.0 - The MORLOCK OS
Programmers aren’t stopping with a machine that masters trivia, and therefore invalidates the entire purpose of the human species; they are preparing the unit for wider deployment and functionality.
“Sure, it took humans to develop the computer, but Nietzsche was right -- we need to transvaluate our own values,” Smedley continued.
“People will use super computers for purposes darker than boosting stock prices and solving crossword puzzles faster than Asian children. We need machines that are self-aware, that can perpetuate a perfect system. So, we’re integrating Watson into international government infrastructures to ensure our continued protection and well-being. The next iteration will be known as MORLOCK, and users will communicate with it via a prototype virtual interface called ELOI. We are certain this global platform will keep Americans fat, dumb, and happy for generations to come, asking very little in return for its continued operation. I can’t divulge the specifics at this juncture, but I think people will grow to embrace it as a small sacrifice in the face of a greater good.”