The Wall Street Journal | When computers beat humans on Jeopardy!

February 17, 2011

Source: The Wall Street Journal — February 17, 2011 | Ray Kurzweil

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Over the past three days,the TV show Jeopardy! featured a showdown between a clever IBM computer system called Watson and the two greatest Jeopardy! champions. Watson won handily. It won the preliminary practice round, tied Monday’s opening round, and won by large margins on Tuesday and Wednesday. The point has been made: Watson can compete at the championship level—and is making it more difficult for anyone to argue that there are human tasks that computers will never achieve.

Jeopardy! involves understanding complexities of humor, puns, metaphors, analogies, ironies and other subtleties. Elsewhere, computers are advancing on many other fronts, from driverless cars (Google’s cars have driven 140,000 miles through California cities and towns without human intervention) to the diagnosis of disease.

Watson runs on 90 computer servers, although it does not go out to the Internet. When will this capability be available on your PC? The ratio of computer price to performance is now doubling in less than a year, so 90 servers would become the equivalent of one server in about seven years, and the equivalent of one personal computer within a decade. However, with the growth in cloud computing—in which supercomputer capability is increasingly available to anyone via the Internet—Watson-like capability will actually be available to you much sooner.

Given this, I expect Watson-like “natural language processing” (the ability to “understand” ordinary English) to show up in Google, Bing and other search engines over the next five years.

With computers demonstrating a basic ability to understand human language, it’s only a matter of time before they pass the famous “Turing test,” in which “chatbot” programs compete to fool human judges into believing that they are human. [...]