Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Kasparov on the Significance of AI Playing Jeopardy!

Over at The Atlantic they have an interesting little exclusive with Garry Kasparov (who has a little experience with the man vs. machine thing) providing his reactions to IBM supercomputer Watson's victory in Jeopardy!:
  • A convincing victory under strict parameters, and if we stay within those limits Watson can be seen as an incremental advance in how well machines understand human language. But if you put the questions from the show into Google, you also get good answers, even better ones if you simplify the questions. To me, this means Watson is doing good job of breaking language down into points of data it can mine very quickly, and that it does it slightly better than Google does against the entire Internet.
  • Much like how computers play chess, reducing the algorithm into "crunchable" elements can simulate the way humans do things in the result even though the computer's method is entirely different. If the result—the chess move, the Jeopardy answer—is all that matters, it's a success. If how the result is achieved matters more, I'm not so sure. For example, Deep Blue had no real impact on chess or science despite the hype surrounding its sporting achievement in defeating me. If Watson's skills can be translated into something useful, something groundbreaking, that is the test. If all it can do is beat humans on a game show Watson is just a passing entertainment akin to the wind-up automata of the 18th century.
  • My concern about its utility, and I read they would like it to answer medical questions, is that Watson's performance reminded me of chess computers. They play fantastically well in maybe 90% of positions, but there is a selection of positions they do not understand at all. Worse, by definition they do not understand what they do not understand and so cannot avoid them. A strong human Jeopardy! player, or a human doctor, may get the answer wrong, but he is unlikely to make a huge blunder or category error—at least not without being aware of his own doubts. We are also good at judging our own level of certainty. A computer can simulate this by an artificial confidence measurement, but I would not like to be the patient who discovers the medical equivalent of answering "Toronto" in the "US Cities" category, as Watson did.
  • I would not like to downplay the Watson team's achievement, because clearly they did something most did not yet believe possible. And IBM can be lauded for these experiments. I would only like to wait and see if there is anything for Watson beyond Jeopardy!. These contests attract the popular imagination, but it is possible that by defining the goals so narrowly they are aiming too low and thereby limit the possibilities of their creations.
From all I can tell, the only really interesting technological advances indicated by Watson's victory are in the ability of a computer to discern a spoken question and it's approach to trying to ascertain the meaning of that question. In both cases, Watson's approach is utterly alien to human intelligence, and in many ways just underscores how different human thought and what a computer does are.

5 comments:

Jake Tawney said...

Outstanding ... were we not just talking about this?! Thanks for the link.

Anonymous said...

"Watson's approach is utterly alien to human intelligence, and in many ways just underscores how different human thought and what a computer does are."

It's pretty much inevitable that computers will someday be smarter than us - as in, be able to interpret their surroundings and make rational decisions to defend their interests and pursue their goals with as at least as much intellectual acuity as us. But they will never, ever be like us. We are motivated by hormones, spiritual longings, and physical needs that they aren't. There's more to humanity than intellect.

Joel

Darwin said...

Joel,

It's pretty much inevitable that computers will someday be smarter than us - as in, be able to interpret their surroundings and make rational decisions to defend their interests and pursue their goals with as at least as much intellectual acuity as us.

I'm very divided as to that question. Certainly, the idea strikes me as interesting, but I'm honestly unsure as to whether computers will ever have "interests" to pursue. Certainly, I think that we'll probably get to a point where if you give a computer a specific objective and range of means, it will be able to do a highly optimized job of deciding what to do, but I'm unclear as to whether computers would ever be able to have the own goals in the way we mean the term.

Anonymous said...

The Mars Rover has interests and goals. The goals are scientific: take rock and soil samples, record the weather, take pictures, and so on. The interests are self-preservation: if it sees an unusual rock at the bottom of a cliff, it should not drive off that cliff to get there.

Joel

Brandon said...

Certainly scientists and engineers have interests and goals with regard to the Mars Rover, in light of which it has been given certain features. And certainly it has ends in a broad sense of the term because of this. How much this carries over to making it reasonable to say the Rover itself has interests and goals, in anything other than a loosely analogous sense, is a thornier question.