Book shows how Watson overpowers human minds

By Stephanie Moreton

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, April 18 2011 6:39 p.m. MDT

In this undated publicity image released by Jeopardy Productions, Inc., host Alex Trebek, left, poses with contestants Ken Jennings, center, and Brad Rutter and a computer named Watson on the set of "Jeopardy!," in Culver City, Calif.

Associated Press

From zeros and ones to nicknames and puns, IBM's Watson machine slowly become a supercomputer over four long years of work.

The work came to fruition recently as IBM's computer, Watson, defeated Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, two "Jeopardy!" all-stars, in a "Jeopardy!" Grand Challenge of knowledge and speed.

The feat only took a roomful of seven servers and years of work to overpower two human minds.

Author Stephen Baker followed Watson's principal investigator, David Ferrucci, on his quest to create a supercomputer that could not only contain trivia, but also understand and comprehend human language.

In his book "Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything," Baker used the "Jeopardy!" match as a vehicle to tell the story of the changes occurring in human and artificial intelligence.

"This is the future of computing and the future of knowledge, that's what this book is about," Baker said. "This is not only about knowledge and about the future of computing, but from the other aspect, it's how a large company innovates."

Filled with facts and stories accompanied by an objective analysis, Baker does an incredible job of simplifying years and years of IBM's complicated wrestle with technology in a comprehendible way.

And quite the wrestle it was.

IBM's challenge was to create a computer that could understand human language well enough to take a question and not only give out an answer, but give the correct answer for the context and situation.

Teaching Watson to understand the complexities and nuances of human language proved to be difficult.

IBM had to dissect the way that humans learn and obtain information so that they could teach the machines everything from facts to the subtleties of human language.

That is what inspired Baker.

"I was really interested because I always loved education, I didn't like school much, but I was interested in how things are taught to people," he said.

Society today, for the most part, equates education with success. Public education has been designed to help students learn facts and figures. However, if a machine, like Watson, can easily top that, what then is the kind of intelligence taught in schools worth, unless applied correctly?

"People have to migrate to higher realms of thought because computers are covering the busy work of knowledge and they will lose their jobs," Baker said.

Perhaps Watson is the start of something big for computers. Perhaps Watson marks the change in information application. Perhaps Watson only provided a few entertaining hours of television.

"Whether it is or isn't the future of computing, I don't know, but there's not doubt in my mind that Watson has opened the door for much more innovation to come," he said.

E-mail: smoreton@desnews.com

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