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IBM's Super Computer 'Watson' Beats Jeopardy Champions

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First chess, now this?

You might have been aware of the fact that chess legend Gary Kasparov was defeated by a computer known as “Deep Blue” in 1996. The event was hailed as a hallmark in the growing intelligence of computers.

A lot of time has passed since then, and for a while, there was a benchmark that computers were still unable to set: the ability to win at the popular television game show “Jeopardy!” Jeopardy, of course, is not just about numbers and geometric figures, but about finding creative answers to questions that were thought up by humans.

In early 2011, that feat was attempted by an IBM super computer known as “Watson.” After eliminating its way onto the show, Watson eventually found itself victorious. Not only did Watson win, but Watson defeated legendary chess champions Brad Rutter (the biggest all-time money winner on the show) and Ken Jennings (the man who had the longest championship streak).

In essence, computers are now smarter than us – at least by one metric.

So what does this mean for the future of artificial intelligence? Heck, what does it mean for the present of artificial intelligence? Let’s dig a little deeper to find out.

Publicity Stunt or Significant Achievement?
A lot of the criticism about Watson has been that IBM essentially engineered an “answering machine” – to use the most literal sense of the phrase – and that because this machine was engineered to win at Jeopardy!, there’s no wonder why it ended up doing just that. In essence, they argue that there is no real “intelligence” to Watson because it is simply programmed to simulate the intelligence of humans.

Few people would debate this point, particularly as no scientist makes the claim that Watson is the next stage in the world of artificial intelligence. However, it’s hard to debate the fact that Watson’s presence – and victory – in Jeopardy! marked a turning point in the world of computing similar to the turning point of “Deep Blue” defeating Gary Kasparov in chess.

The ability of these machines say a lot about how far computing has come, even if it does not necessarily reflect the innovation of truly artificial intelligence.


The Future of Smart Computers

Although it’s tempting to say that there will be Watsons everywhere in the future, the true trend in computing is toward smaller devices. The device you hold in your hand on a regular basis – your smart phone – has more capabilities than the largest computers of earlier days, even computers that were used to help send man to the moon.

As computing develops, computers themselves will actually take a place closer to the shadows, as devices like televisions and other electronics will be able to conceal their computing parts more easily. Watson may not be there yet, but its achievement in defeating humans at Jeopardy! is certainly something that people all around the world will want to remember for a long time to come.

James Cofflin is a marketing strategist for Arcisphere Technologies, (http://softwarelifecyclepros.com), a company providing consulting, staffing, and training services to deliver customizable business solutions and simplify the software development process.

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