Sunday, February 20, 2011

Thinking Machines

Curious that, right after I post some thoughts about intelligent thinking-machines, IBM's computer Watson soundly defeats the two best human players at Jeopardy. An astounding move forward for computers in understanding human language--which is a feat that continues to challenge even the most sophisticated silicon-based brains.

It seems almost a shame that Isaac Asimov did not live to see this event. However far-fetched it may be, the premise of "The Last Question" now seems slightly more plausible.

It is interesting to note how in discussing Watson's significance for the future, people refer to science fiction works. David Ferrucci, IBM researcher who led the development of Watson, urges us to compare the electronic Jeopardy champ not to the villainous Hal, but to the wise and helpful computer on Star Trek. In a similar vein, the novel Brave New World and movie Gattaga are frequently cited in discussions of the impact of human genetics on the future. Scientists may love or hate these cautionary tales, but cannot avoid them, and the vivid images they create in the minds of the public.

sneak preview (above). Image from my upcoming (not-yet-titled) SF comic book.

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