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From HAL to Watson, AI is now more relevant than ever

13 Jun

Every time I overhear someone talking to Google to do a voice search, I am reminded the usual crop of techno futurologists from Asimov to Arthur C. Clarke to Ray Kurzweil who alerted us to the potential of AI. Just for the record I don’t buy Kurzweil’s funky ‘singularity‘ theory is about how around 1945, we will augment our bodies with super-intelligent machines…

Yet, AI is becoming more relevant. Consider what’s happening around autonomous cars. Hint: Google isn’t the only one in this race.Or consider the pace of robotics.

Sidebar: A few weeks ago I asked some students (2nd through 6th graders at a Montessori school) to design and build robots from assorted parts. Many of them gave them names, though that was not the requirement! They have no qualms about machines that might live’ alongside us. I once took some older students to visit a hospital and see a da Vinci surgical robot. They loved it! A bot that can cut and suture one of your body parts!

Back to AI. That famous ‘machine’ known as Watson, which beat humans in that game show Jeopardy, was able to search a massive databases and respond faster than Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. But that was not all. It also outsmarted them in strategy – that is in picking the categories that would win bigger. It is eerie to watch those rounds and see how a computer sitting in between two humans looks like. (It sounds human too, as it calmly picks a category such as ‘chicks dig me’ to the nervous laughter of the live audience.)

I was intrigued to read about how JWT, the agency that handled IBM and this show, was briefed on how to present Watson. At one time, the inventor behind it, specifically asked that Watson should not bear any resemblance to…HAL. If you know Stanley Kubrik’s and Arthur Clarke’s 2001: a Space Odyssey, you’ll know why. That softer logo ‘Smart Planet’ logo, derived from IBM’s larger project about a smarter planet was not supposed to look humanoid, or scare people.

Even those people who talk to their machines (Siri) or instruct them where to go (GPS).

 

 

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Posted by on June 13, 2014 in Technology

 

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