Maybe humanity isn’t doomed afterall

March 6, 2011

It seems that Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) did what the two greatest Jeopardy players of all time couldn’t do. He beat Watson in Jeopardy. Holt is a trained rocket scientist and former five-day Jeopardy! champ:

Holt — who was a five-time Jeopardy! winner more than 30 years ago and joked midday that Watson was “just a little Atari” when he made his game-show splash – tweeted almost an hour ago about the experience: “I played a full round against @IBMWatson tonight and was proud to hold my own: the final tally was Holt $8,600, Watson $6,200.”Holt was joined in the game by Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut, who tweeted that he didn’t mind losing to a nuclear physicist and computer that famously defeated some of the TV game show’s top champs: “I seriously CANNOT believe that @rushholt beat @ibmwatson,” he wrote. Also playing: Reps. Bill Cassidy, Nan Hayworth and Jared Polis.

Now we just have to make sure Watson doesn’t send robots back in time to kill Holt’s mother before he’s born.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 2.23.11

February 24, 2011

1. Creationists defeated in Oklahoma – Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern tried to pass a bill that would bar teachers from grading students down on science tests because of that student’s particular belief. This was the latest attempt by creationists to force their way into science classrooms. Fortunately, it didn’t work and the bill was defeated. Sadly though, it was only defeated by a 7-9 vote.

2. Watson moving to Columbia Medical Center – The computer that brutally defeated Jeopardy‘s two greatest champs is being taken to the Columbia University Medical Center in Manhattan where it will be used to help doctors evaluate patients.

“Watson has the potential to help doctors reduce the time needed to evaluate and determine the correct diagnosis for a patient,” said Dr. Herbert Chase, professor of Clinical Medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, in a public statement.

Chase also said that the super genius would lend doctors a hand when it comes to developing more “personalized treatment options” for patients’ needs through use of the Watson software.

3. Bible Fail – When a gay man was attacked, a news crew interviewed one of the attackers’ friends, a wrestler who proudly brandished a tattoo featuring the entire Leviticus 18:22 verse in the Bible, which infamously condemns homosexuality as an abomination. Sadly, this wrestler didn’t keep reading as in the very next chapter, Leviticus 19:28, the Bible condemns tattoos.

4. There’s no such thing as a lie detector

A new report in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, discusses some of the common misconceptions about those proficient in the art of deception, reviews the shortcomings of commonly used lie-detection techniques, and presents new empirically supported methods for telling liars from truth-tellers with greater accuracy.

Lie detectors routinely make the common mistakes of overemphasizing nonverbal cues, neglecting intrapersonal variations (i.e., how a person acts when they are telling the truth versus when they are lying), and being overly confident in their lie-detection skills


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 1.19.11

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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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.