So Watson Going To Happen When They Startson Writing The Great American Novel?

Posted by @ 4:47 pm on June 23rd, 2010

Turns out, making time to read the Times was totally worth it, although this article is free online.

Basically, computer scientists have programed a supercomputer named Watson (not yr dad’s supercomputer, a new one – so you can chew on what that means) to interpret English syntax well enough to answer Jeopardy! questions using a shitload of data uploaded from books, magazines, and newspapers (all the stuff we don’t have time to read ((yet))).

While it’s far from perfect, there’s definitely some potential here for the same sort of freakish synapse connections we make when we play with language and such and !

On the third day I watched Watson play, it did quite poorly, losing four of seven games, in one case without any winnings at all. Often Watson appeared to misunderstand the clue and offered answers so inexplicable that the audience erupted in laughter. Faced with the clue “This ‘insect’ of a gangster was a real-life hit man for Murder Incorporated in the 1930s & ’40s,” Watson responded with “James Cagney.” Up on the screen, I could see that none of its lesser choices were the correct one, “Bugsy Siegel.” Later, when asked to complete the phrase “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Ka—,” Watson offered “not in Kansas anymore,” which was incorrect, since the precise phrasing was simply “Kansas anymore,” and “Jeopardy!” is strict about phrasings. When I looked at the screen, I noticed that the answers Watson had ranked lower were pretty odd, including “Steve Porcaro,” the keyboardist for the band Toto (which made a vague sort of sense), and “Jackie Chan” (which really didn’t). In another game, Watson’s logic appeared to fall down some odd semantic rabbit hole, repeatedly giving the answer “Tommy Lee Jones” — the name of the Hollywood actor — to several clues that had nothing to do with him.

– Clive Thompson, NYTM

I.B.M.’s SCARA, a robot arm that works with Legos most of the time, paints occasionally.

More than you may want to know about robots painting abstract portraits is available in this PDF.

My only activity of the daytime is to sit at the typewriter and churn out words – ungenerously, for all the words are for sale, and I begrudge the time and stamp-money spent on personal letters. I work, I tell myself, to earn money for my prospective widow and orphan. But the work has become an unlovely drug, no more.

The clack of the typewriter justifies my existence: the value of the words I weave together has become a matter of secondary moment. “The tiger in the tiger-pit,” T.S. Eliot wrote of a generic old man, “is not more irritable than I.” A sound observation (Eliot was young enough when he made it, only about fifty). My capacity for rage is large and shocking. I used to be timid, prepared to let injustice and insolence prevail against me rather than disturb the universe. Now I curse officials and people I wrongly imagine have jumped the queue. The huge mouths of obscenity and blasphemy I make set my heart hugely pumping. I do the family cooking, and if any member of the family makes mild culinary suggestions or even steps into the kitchen to look for the morning paper (which ought not to be there, let’s be quite clear about that,) I howl and swear and stamp. The ingenuity and foulness of my language, abetted by the permissiveness that surrounds me, is a kind of impersonal horror: it does not seem to emanate from me, but from slyly cached devil in my gut. I sometimes seem to myself to have been taken over entirely by a diabolic force. Where am I? What has happened to me? Who is that howling creature in the corridor-mirror?

– Anthony Burgess, “Autoportrait”


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