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Man Vs Machine, Again
By Vincent Chang - on 15 Feb 2011, 10:18am

When Deep Blue broke Garry Kasparoff's resistance and spirit in that epic chess revenge match in 1997, forcing the champion into an uncharacteristic, though very human error in the last game, it was a victory for brute force computational power. It was the first time that a human chess champion had lost to a machine in an official match.

While computers are now recognized as extremely capable at tasks requiring intensive calculations, it's not exactly true artificial intelligence. For one, Deep Blue isn't capable of interacting with another human. It would never pass the Turing test.

IBM's latest supercomputer, Watson takes this to the next level. It's facing two human champions in Jeopardy, the game of trivia that spans the breadth of human knowledge. In order to play it, Watson must not only be able to parse the words in a sentence, but also understand the English language and all its nuances. Can a computer do humor and innuendo? Certainly, that's something Deep Blue would never be able to do.

The science behind Watson, data analytics, holds much potential for a computing firm like IBM. After all, if Watson can succeed at Jeopardy, there are many applications of its natural language capabilities in fields like medicine and finance. Imagine a program that can analyze a patient to a huge degree of accuracy from his symptoms. A program small enough to fit on a mobile device. How many lives could it save? Or if you're a pessimist, how many lives it could endanger with a misdiagnosis?

It may be reality someday. For now, Watson is currently tied with the humans after the first night of Jeopardy. With Double and Final Jeopardy to come, your guess is as good as mine on whether man or machine will win this round.

Watson has its own facebook page if you're looking for more information. What would be cool is if IBM allows Watson to react to the comments on his facebook wall. That would be worth waiting for.


Vincent Chang

Vincent Chang / Former Senior Tech Writer

Vincent has written enough about tech to know that he doesn't know enough about tech. But that's not keeping him from going jargon-heavy about processors and mobos. After all, "you can't stop the signal".