Thursday, February 17, 2011
"I'll take 'What's on TV?' for $200, Alex."
"Answer: 'The quality being tested by an IBM Computer and two human contestants."
"Question: 'What is intelligence?'"
That answer-in-the-form-of-a-question is not simply the entertainment value of the last three nights of the game show Jeopardy in which Watson - a computer the size of 10 refrigerators, named for after IBM's founder - competed against two human contestants.
It's also The Question which has been the point of scientific and sociological and cultural inquiry for years. I suspect that question will continue to be asked for years to come.
Watson won, of course. All three nights. Although, he did miss the Final Jeopardy question the second night. "Toronto" is decidedly NOT a U.S. city, but Watson didn't understand the question because of the way it was worded.
I hate it when that happens, don't you?
You know. Like the character Charlie Babbitt in one of my all-time favorite movies "Rain Man".
"Jeopardy!" is challenging because the clues are esoteric. No one would watch a TV program about a battle of common sense.
Hence, the popularity of "Reality Shows" like The Jersey Shore (don't get me started).
Watson is only a "statistical brain," and not an analytical one, so a question like "If a snowman melts and later refreezes, does it turn back into a snowman?" would be nearly impossible for a statistical reasoning program to tackle.
You can't answer it by calculating how many times "snowman" appears next to "melt" and "refreeze" in every article and book ever written.
Ms. Conroy reported that, in one interview about Watson she listened to, it was suggested that Watson could be used in medicine to cross reference a patient's symptoms with compendiums of digitized medical journals and data - a sort of statistical second opinion to a doctor's professional experience.
Pretty soon, the scientist said, computers will be used to more accurately diagnose and even cure diseases. Ultimately, perhaps, computers might even 'discover' a cure for everything from high blood pressure and diabetes to cancer.
Ms. Conroy said, "When that happens, you have to know that the pharmaceutical companies will get involved."
"Why?" I asked, sounding every bit as befuddled as I was.
She sighed a weary sigh in that way she sometimes does when she's talking to someone who obviously isn't in the medical profession and doesn't read as many mystery novels as she does.
"Right now, as long as we treat diseases symptomatically, the pharmaceutical companies make millions - billions - trillions! We put people on medications to control cholesterol and, once they come off the medication, their cholesterol levels sometimes get worse than they were before."
"The real treatment goal of pharmacology, then, is not to find a cure for high cholesterol - even though it can be life threatening - but to continue to treat the symptoms."
"Ah," I said.
Then, she added in that wonderful way of her ability to formulate and articulate pithy bits of wisdom, "There are great profits to be made in pathology."
You have to admit, she has a point. Perhaps this is Phase II of the real reform of health care.
Is artificial intelligence a threat or a benefit?
I'm fascinated by the overtones of fear I hear in conversations about Watson. Mostly, they have to do with computers and machinery taking over the work of humans.
Well, guess what? That's what technology does. Tractors, forklifts, word-processing software - they all took away jobs.
And people, with their creative minds, have used them throughout history to figure out where the next jobs will be - even using the very technology designed to replace human labor to make greater profits.
At the end of the day, that's the real difference between 'artificial' and 'real' intelligence.
"I'll take "Cultural Anxiety" for $2,000, Alex."
(Bell sounds repeatedly. Audience applauds.) "And. . . . it's the Daily Double!"
"I'll wager $2,000, Alex"
"What is, "Live long and prosper."
"And you win the Daily Double" (Bell sounds. Audience applause.)
That's something no computer can achieve without human assistance.
However, with the assistance of 'artificial intelligence', humans may be able to achieve both.
Peace, and long life, Dr. Spock.
I'll leave you with a little "Think Music" to consider these things.