Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Let's Play Final Jeopardy!

National Spelling Bee
Champion 32 years running.
Someone built a super computer that is better at Jeopardy than actual people. In fact, it's better than people who are really good at Jeopardy (except this guy). Amazing huh? But is this really a surprise? The computer, named Watson after Sherlock Holmes' non-coke addict pal/narrator, is basically an interactive encyclopedia of human knowledge. The question could be: "The letter 'M' appears appears this many times on page seventy three of Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities." As long as the answer is knowable and someone bothered to enter it into Watson's memory, it can access it. It was built to win at Jeopardy. Ken Jennings was built to eat, avoid predators and mate. Advantage: Machines.

I guess I've always known that these
two would preside over the
destruction of mankind...

Of course, Ken Jennings could stroll over to the next studio and probably kick some ass at Wheel of Fortune. Watson would have to wait for a teamster, an extension cord and a few solid weeks of reprograming. Advantage: Ken Jennings. Humans, for the time being, still have the adaptability advantage.  But are we doomed the day a robot mechanically intones the phase: "Pat, I'd like to solve the puzzle"?

"I, uh, have the pizza
you ordered..."

To overcome the adaptability gap, scientists in Europe are creating a sort of internet for robots. Instead of offering unrestricted access to the sum of human knowledge and porn, this robot internet will allow robots to communicate with one another and share information, experience and where our fleshy bodies are most vulnerable to their robo-kicks. It'll be sort of a collective consciousness or 'hive-mind' which is exactly what we want to give robots if we want them to rise up against us. Also, there will be some robot porn...likely full of bad acting and flimsy pretexts (see right).

Scientists predict a robot
uprising by the year 2084.

And then there's Rajesh Rao, a scientist who can't wait for machines to decide to destroy all humans. To that end he is building a robot that can read our minds. The idea is that this technology would allow prosthetic limbs to one day be controlled by our brains, but it could easily lead to the day when you find yourself being choked to death by your own robo-arm. At first, everyone would think you were kidding, like 'oh look at me, I'm pretending to strangle myself' and then you'll turn blue and keel over and everyone will be like: holy shit, he wasn't fooling around...but it'll be too late. Chalk up another for the robots...and then-wait, what was I talking about? Oh, right, the end of mankind.

But we should fear this robot, it's
made of nightmares. Thanks Japan...

These technological advancements may well be significant steps on the road towards Robot superiority and their total domination of our planet and gameshows. On the other hand you could say that humans built a machine that did exactly what it was meant to do. Isn't it kind of irrational to fear machines that are functioning normally? I mean, other than chainsaws.

Robots are only going to do what we build them to do, and for that reason, yeah, a little healthy fear is justified. But it's really just because people build them, and people can be well, jerks.
"What? You make us look like shiny metal Death-Bots, give us lasers 
and then when we take over, we're the bad guys?"

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