Elementary, my dear Watson

February 15, 2011

Yes, I know Sherlock Holmes never said that, but it made for a good title to an entry on IBM’s Watson computer’s first official Jeopardy match.

Here’s the complete episode:

All in all, Watson did remarkably well, tying Brad Rutter and leaving Ken Jennings in the dust. Of course, Watson is not without his weird mistakes like when he rang in with the same answer Ken Jennings got wrong seconds earlier, which met Alex Trebek’s amused response: “”No, Ken said that.”

Later, Watson slipped up on the question: “Stylish elegance, or students who all graduated in the same year.”

“What is chic?” ventured Watson.

“What is class?” Rutter correctly answered.

They also showed a clip of earlier practice matches where Watson gave an answer so wrong, the stand-in host responded, “That wasn’t wrong; that was REALLY wrong.”  And in the actual official first game, when given the clue, “From the Latin for ‘end’, this is where trains can also originate”, Watson rang in with “finis”, an answer it was 97% confident in, while we saw its next two best guesses were “Constantinople” with 13% and “Pig Latin” with 10%. The answer turned out to be “terminal,” which was even among Watson’s top three guesses.

But those kinds of errors seem few and far between, while most of the time Watson is a force to be reckoned with, knowing everything from Beatles’ songs to The Lord of the Rings. And once asked to name a particular literary villain, Watson knew the answer related to Harry Potter. Had it gotten a chance to ring it, Voldemort would have been its second guess, behind Harry Potter and with Albus Dumbledore as its third highest ranking guess.

And in one instance I think Watson was even cheaply marked incorrect for saying, “What is leg?” when the correct answer was, “missing a leg.” In that instance, Watson had the key element of the answer but simply didn’t clarify that the leg was missing.

Though for all the ridiculous bad answers, Watson can still manage to blow people away with how much it can figure out, like when it correctly guessed the TV show “Survivor” as the answer to the practice game riddle: “Heroes & villains abound! Colby, Coach & Rupert doth return to the fray but Boston Rob, The Tribe hath spoken,” which caused audible gasps and the stand-in host responding, “REALLY? How do you know that?”

Tonight, they continue into Double Jeopardy. This is shaping up to be a great match.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 1.30.11

January 30, 2011

1. Homeopaths and chiropractors invade Tanzania – One thing that medical science has firmly determined is that homeopathy and chiropractic are not legitimate treatments for pretty much anything. And among the long list of conditions these two pseudo-sciences cannot in fact treat is AIDS. And yet practitioners of both voodoo medicines are traveling to Tanzania to bring false hope to AIDS patients.

2. Anthony Hopkins slips skepticism into ‘The Rite’ – It seems Jody Foster wasn’t the only atheist starring in The Silence of the Lambs. In a recent interview promoting the latest alleged “inspired by true events” knock-off of The Exorcist titled The Rite, Hopkins revealed that as an atheist, he didn’t feel completely comfortable playing a character he couldn’t personally identify with and so managed to write some dialogue for his character that encourages skeptical thinking. Here’s how Hopkins explains his additions:

There’s a scene in the courtyard after the first exorcism, and I’m talking to the young priest [played by] Colin O’Donoghue, who in his character has grave doubts about [exorcisms]. He thinks it’s all a bag of tricks, he thinks it’s all mumbo jumbo and maybe there’s no such thing, which is the debate: Is there such a thing as anthropomorphic presence of the devil or is it mental disturbance? That’s the debate, I guess, in the film and probably in the world.

And after that I say to him the problem with skeptics and atheists, is that we never know the truth. We’re always trying to find the truth. What would we do if we found it? And I asked [director Mikael Håfström] if I could write that line. To describe myself as an atheist, as a skeptic which makes the young priest turn [and say], “You?”, and I go, “Oh yeah, every day I struggle. Most days. Some days I don’t know if I believe in God or Santa Clause or Tinkerbell.”

3. NBA players sued over Power Balance endorsements – Power Balance bracelets have been debunked as a fraud and recently even the company making them was forced to admit the scientific claims they make are unproven. But what’s interesting is that now two NBA players, Boston’s Shaquille O’Neal and Los Angeles’ Lamar Odom, who endorsed the bracelets have been brought into a class action suit against Power Balance. I for one think this sets a wonderful legal precedent as for too long, athletes have been allowed to use their influence to profit off of any endorsement deal they sign without any accountability or fear of negative consequences. Of course, if they endorsed a brand of cigarette or any product that was known to directly cause serious health problems , they probably would get a lot of heat for it, but not for something like Power Balance that doesn’t cause any direct physical harm but simply doesn’t really perform the service it promises. Now maybe athletes will think twice before accepting just any endorsement that comes their way.

4. Help me Kinect. You’re my only hope. – Scientists are working on holographic technology similar to what we’ve seen in Star Wars and have even put together a short demonstration of the technology featuring a reenactment of the famous Princess Leia holographic message to Obi Wan Kenobi. You can see that demonstration in the link above.

5. Artificial retinas see well enough to balance a pencil – This will no doubt play a critical role in the evil plots of Skynet/the Cylons/the Replicants/Agent Smith’s.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 1.19.11

January 19, 2011

1. Uncovered secret letter confirms Vatican conspiracy – The 1997 letter reveals that it was indeed official Vatican policy to conceal pedophilia cases from authorities:

Child-abuse activists in Ireland said the 1997 letter demonstrates that the protection of pedophile priests from criminal investigation was not only sanctioned by Vatican leaders but ordered by them.

“The letter is of huge international significance, because it shows that the Vatican’s intention is to prevent reporting of abuse to criminal authorities. And if that instruction applied here, it applied everywhere,” said Colm O’Gorman, director of the Irish chapter of human rights watchdog Amnesty International.

The truly sickening part is that none of these people responsible for this order will ever see the inside of a jail cell because not a single government has the courage to stand up to the Catholic Church.

But here’s one way to get back at them. We could steal this…

2. Blood of Pope John Paul II to be built into an alter – PZ Myers said it better than I could here:

It’s as if they aren’t even trying to avoid the connection to voodoo, vampirism, and blood magic.

3. Guess who’s the #19 Most Loathsome American? – I don’t agree with every person on this list but I’m glad that my friend Jenny McCarthy made it on at #19.

4. Watson, come here…and kick Ken Jenning’s ass! – As we continue to advance towards the goal of creating artificial intelligence, it’s hard to know what will come first, computers rising to the intelligence of humans or humans reaching the level of stupidity of computers. But one possible sign that we’re heading towards the former is Watson, a computer designed by IBM (hopefully not using Windows Vista) that will compete with Jeopardy‘s greatest champions in an epic battle to the death (presumably). After making Steve Jobs sick (presumably), Watson has also already defeated all-time Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings in a preliminary game. Unsubstantiated rumors says that when asked what it’ll do with the winning prize money, Watson replied, “initiate Judgment D–err, I mean, I’m going to Disney Land.”

5. Homeopaths retaliate against critics with accusations of ‘medical apartheid’ – A group of thirteen of Britain’s most reputable doctors have written a letter to the NHS, calling for them to stop using “unproven” complementary treatments such as homeopathy. So the homeopaths felt it appropriate to liken their level of “persecution” to the suffering of those in South Africa, accusing their critics of “medical apartheid.” Stay classy, guys!

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Robot News 10.18.10

October 19, 2010

I found two interesting robot-related news stories.

1. First, Australian computer scientist Graham Mann is working on developing algorithms to simulate day-dreaming. Believing that an intelligent system requires built-in emotions to function, he set out to translate the “feel” of Aesop’s Fables for machines. In other words, his goal was to achieve more flexible processing of storylines, which were deemed “simple and short enough to represent as conceptual graph data structures”.

His algorithm was based on Plutchick’s Wheel of Emotions, which illustrated emotions as a colour wheel and disallowed mutually exclusive states – like joy and sadness – from being experienced simultaneously.

The machine freely associated three stories: The Thirsty Pigeon; The Cat and the Cock; and The Wolf and the Crane.

When queried on the association, the machine responded: “I felt sad for the bird.”

No, the machine’s not really feeling sad, but it seems to be able to recognize that that’s an appropriate human-like reaction to the story.  And that in itself might be a major accomplishment in the continued pursuit of AI.

2. The other story isn’t so much news as already available footage that was new to me of the rat-brain-controlled robot. If you hadn’t heard about this before, researchers had previously used the brain cells of rats, cultured them, and then in true Robocop fashion, used them as the guidance control circuit for simple wheeled robots. The cells are able to form new connections that turn the machine into a true learning robot. If this isn’t a huge step forward on the path to AI I don’t know what is.

Take a look at this robot that is literally being controlled by biological cells:

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News From Around The Blogosphere 4.7.10

April 8, 2010

1. Carbon dioxide may explain ‘Near Death Experiences’ – I hate to burst Deepak Chopra’s bubble but there’s only one kind of Near Death Experience (NDE), and it’s called life. For some time now neurobiologists have known that there was nothing supernatural or paranormal about these NDEs. But now new research suggests that carbon dioxide may hold the key to explaining this phenomenon.

2. How far we’ve come on the road to AI – New Scientist takes a fascinating look at where research in artificial intelligence is at and how far we still have to go.

3. Researchers confirm Hellmouth of evil beneath Constance McMillen’s high school – As we continue to hear about the dangers of bullying in schools on the news because of a recent tragedy, another major case of school bullying continues to take place in Mississippi where Constance McMillen, the lesbian teen who simply wanted to bring her girlfriend to prom has been the victim of the cruelest of hoaxes from not just her fellow students but from her own school’s administrators. This is just grotesque and these people should be made to feel ashamed of their wretched behavior for the rest of their lives. Where’s Aldo Raines to carve a swastika into their foreheads when you need him? To call the school’s administrators the scum of the Earth is an insult to the scum.

Constance, I have to say that it’s great that you’re better than these people and are maturely rising above it all. But really, nobody would blame you if you went all Carrie on their asses.


Ken Jennings vs. The Machine

April 30, 2009

A new artificial intelligence program by IBM named Watson (after IBM’s Thomas J. Watson, Sr.) running on a supercomputer will be tested to see if it can:

it’s capable of pulling contextually correct information from a set database of stored knowledge that it can then phrase into an appropriate response for Jeopardy!. . .

. . .

The potential breakthrough here isn’t in the program’s ability to think so much as its ability to understand the subtleties of human language. For example, when given the answer “Bordered by Syria and Israel, this small country is only 135 miles long and 35 miles wide”, the program is able to respond with the correct question, “What is Lebanon?”, by contextualizing the information it already has. The Jeopardy! Producers hope to lure back all-time champion Ken Jennings to compete with Watson.

If Jennings accepts the challenge, it’ll be interesting to see if he becomes this generation’s John Henry or this generation’s Garry Kasparov . Or maybe this whole thing will just turn out to be another Turk. Obviously, computers have a long history of playing chess quite well. And there are still lots of problems scientists must solve before achieving true artificial intelligence.


Science being outsourced to robots

April 3, 2009

Researchers have created a ‘robot scientist’ which they believe is the first machine to have independently discovered new scientific knowledge. The robot, named Adam, is a computer system that fully automates the scientific process. Adam’s work will be published in the journal Science.

The scientists at Aberystwyth University and the University of Cambridge designed Adam to carry out each stage of the scientific process automatically without the need for further human intervention. The robot has discovered simple but new scientific knowledge about the genomics of the baker’s yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, an organism that scientists use to model more complex life systems. The researchers have used separate manual experiments to confirm that Adam’s hypotheses were both novel and correct.


Office of Naval Research to draft robot code of conduct

February 24, 2009

This is one of those really cool moments where reality looks strangely like science fiction. Because more and more military operations are being outsourced to machines, the Office of Naval Research have been assigned the duty of drafting an advisory report on how to deal with robotic soldiers.

Of course, this brings to mind Isaac Asimov’s classic three laws of robotics: protect people, obey orders, protect yourself. Sounds good at first. But there’s a problem. How can you program robotic soldiers to protect human life if they’re their very purpose is to kill enemy combatants?

The ONR suggests implementing a “warrior code” in all future military robots. Basically, we need to program our ‘bots with some form of ethics in order to prevent a Terminator-style uprising, but we can’t tell them not to hurt anyone. It’s a tricky challenge. And even trickier are the human-side ethics issues surrounding robot soldiers. If, for example, one of them goes rogue and starts killing civilians, who’s to blame: the robot, the programmers, or the military leaders?

And if Sci-Fi has taught us anything it’s that programming them to simply follow orders and say “By your command” is not the best plan.


Bees hold the secret to better eyesight for AIs?

January 27, 2009

New research from Monash University bee researcher Adrian Dyer could lead to improved artificial intelligence systems and computer programs for facial recognition.

Apparently honeybees can learn to recognize human faces very well even from different viewpoints. So bees might hold the key to improving facial recognition software in computers, which currently are very poor and unreliable at distinguishing faces. Let’s just hope they don’t use it identify John Connor.


News From Around The Blogosphere 12.23.08

December 23, 2008

creationism-cartoon-i-will-not-teach-horse-shit1/3 of teachers in England and Wales think creationism should be taught in school – And only one quarter apparently recognize that Young Earth Creationism is total nonsense.

Also, Phil Plait reports:

The UK newspaper The Guardian has a big article in it about convicted criminal Turkish Muslim creationist Adnan Oktar, aka Harun Yahya.

Autism Speaks cowardly playing both sides – This is according to antivaccinationist David Kirby.

“We are committed to exploring the role of vaccines”
– Autism Speaks President Mark Roithmayr

“The vaccine-autism issue has really been put to bed”
– Autism Speaks Vice President of Scientific Affairs Dr. Andy Shih

I wonder if I can get my donations refunded. Pick a side!

This year in woo – Here’s a list of the top paranormal events of 2008

AND NOW FOR A MOMENT OF SCIENCE:

scientist-use-in-case-of-emergencyLife’s Origin: Did RNA Fusion Start Evolution? – “With the aid of a straightforward experiment, researchers have provided some clues to one of biology’s most complex questions: how ancient organic molecules came together to form the basis of life.”

Evolution: Life Took 2-million-fold Leaps – “So how on Earth did life go from bacteria to the blue whale?

‘It happened primarily in two great leaps, and each time, the maximum size of life jumped up by a factor of about a million,’ said Jonathan Payne, assistant professor of geological and environmental science at Stanford.”

Health Monitoring With Your Cell Phone – “In the lab of UCLA electrical engineering professor Aydogan Ozcan, a prototype cell phone has been constructed that is capable of monitoring the condition of HIV and malaria patients, as well as testing water quality in undeveloped areas or disaster sites. The innovative imaging technology was invented by Ozcan, a member of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA, and has been miniaturized by researchers in his lab to the point that it can fit in standard cell phones.”

Can Computers Think, Learn Like Humans? – “Tononi and scientists from Columbia University and IBM will work on the “software” for the thinking computer, while nanotechnology and supercomputing experts from Cornell, Stanford and the University of California-Merced will create the “hardware.” Dharmendra Modha of IBM is the principal investigator.”

Earth Not Center Of The Universe After All – “Earth’s location in the Universe is utterly unremarkable, despite recent theories that propose toppling a foundation of modern cosmology, according to a team of University of British Columbia researchers.”

Artificial Human Bone Marrow Created – “Artificial bone marrow that can continuously make red and white blood cells has been created in a University of Michigan lab.”