Sunday, February 27, 2011

It's elementary, my dear Watson!

Recently, Jeopardy had a computer as one of its contestants, for the very first time in history. This computer was named Watson and it has the capacity of 2,400 computers, with a database of around 10 million documents. Needless to say, this computer is intelligent, but the real hurdle to jump for its creators was to create a computer that could resemble human thought processes. Even more important than knowing the right answer to a Jeopardy question, is understanding how to interpret the linguistics of the question to know what it is asking in order to answer it correctly.

In class, we talked about what a person is, both its material and immaterial parts. We also talked about different aspects such as memory, thoughts, learning, and understanding and whether these aspects are part of the material person or the immaterial person. We argued that memory, for example, is a process of neurons connecting at the right times in the right places. At the same time, we also argued that we would still have our memories in heaven, even though we would not have our same material body. In addition, people who have out-of-body experiences also have memory even though their material body is certifiably dead.

As the creators of Watson jumped a number of different hurdles, it probably led them to a greater appreciation for the complexities of the human brain. At the beginning, several of the creators did not even think that it was possible to create a computer that could compete on Jeopardy, let alone win. Jeopardy questions are worded with wit and puns, making it very difficult for a computer to decipher and understand. Watson can also learn from its mistakes and improve. Watson was a product of several intelligent people over a span of decades, showing how difficult it is to create a machine that simply resembles the human brain. The human brain truly is amazing! And Watson has overcome many of the barriers of prior computers, such as understanding and learning, but it still misses some key aspects of the human brain. Whether these aspects are immaterial and unattainable for a computer or simply in a future model of Watson is still to be determined, but the fact remains that the human brain is amazing in its complexities and its Creator continues to blow our minds.

1 comment:

  1. I recently watched a video clip on youtube that involved a robot being sent into a coffeeshop for a man to buy him a scone. Although this robot was not anywhere as complex as Watson, the creators had coupled a live video of the man so that he could respond instead of the limited storage capacity of the robot. So although we have Watson paving the way for future robot-kind, the robot's roaming the world are still leagues behind the power of the human brain and functionality.


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