A few of my friends on Facebook are Jeopardy freaks. They watch it daily and seem to ask me about once a week if I knew the answer the Final Jeopardy question (most of the time I do; I have a lot of useless knowledge stored in my brain. For some reason I know that 5 to the fourth power is 625; I also know that Simpsons producer Al Jean’s dad has a hardware store somewhere near Detroit). They were up in arms when the computer Watson beat everyone.
“We have to stop Watson before he turns into Skynet!” “Watson will kill us all!” and “Watson has come back from the future to terminate us all” are actual status updates on Facebook. I say this to each of them:
Jeopardy is not chess. There aren’t near-infinite possible repercussions when you make your next move. All a computer does is store and regurgitate information. As a user, it looks like we’re creating some new website or using Illustrator to produce something that has never been seen before, but we’re not. We’re typing in words for the computer to memorize and regurgitate when asked; we’re telling it vectors to memorize and regurgitate when asked.
Jeopardy is a memorization show. Who here can memorize and regurgitate the most information the quickest?
No. Any computer anywhere can memorize things faster than you can.
We’re not asking it to be creative or come up with a new way to solve a problem. We’re not even asking it to calculate the most logical route to take (like a GPS or a computer chess opponent). We’re asking it to look up shit real quick on the internet. Or, better yet, we’re asking it to download Wikipedia and look up shit even quicker.
A computer beating a man at something like chess is an amazing feat for the computer programmer: he studied how chess champions think and figured out a way to combat that using zeroes and ones. A computer beating a man at trivia is not an amazing feat for anyone. That’s what they’re designed to do: remember stuff so we don’t have to.
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