Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Watson, the Jeopardy-playing AI

Watson wasn't always this adept:
It botched the solutions to the game-show clues with howlers that filled IBM's research lab with laughter — and raised deep concern. Once, when queried about a famous French bacteriologist, Watson skipped right past Louis Pasteur and responded instead: "What is, 'How tasty was my little Frenchman?'" (the title of a 1971Brazilian movie about cannibals). Even worse, Watson churned away for nearly two hours to come up with such nonsense.
However, Watson's "intelligence" is artificial in more ways than one. Like a chatterbot, a clueless politician or the inmate of Searle's Chinese Room, it creates output appropriate to its input by associating between symbols without any understanding of their referents, and cannot deal with questions that require more subtle interpretation:
When it comes up with an answer, such as "What is 'Othello?,'" the name of Shakespeare's play is simply the combination of ones and zeros that correlates with millions of calculations it has carried out. Statistics tell it that there is a high probability that the word "Othello" matches with a "tragedy," a "captain" and a "Moor." But Watson doesn't understand the meaning of those words any more than Google does, or, for that matter, a parrot raised in a household of Elizabethan scholars...
This clue, for example, ties Watson into knots: "Look in this direction and you'll see the wainscoting." The answer is rooted in human experience, not data. Only a "Jeopardy!" contestant with a body is likely to understand it and come up with the right response: "What is down?"

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