Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Linguistics

natural language processing

As I've been finishing this one -- another for the cyborg book -- I can't help but think about Watson, that jeopardy-playing computer.

I haven't watched footage but heard snippets on NPR as they casually follow the story. I'd imagined I'd be more horrified about the story when I first heard about it. There is something fundamentally perverse about the idea to me. But I actually just find it amusing and accept each subsequent update thoughtfully rather than anxiously. I am no longer defensive towards intelligent robots, no longer worried that robots are gunning for human obsolescence. We may still be headed that way, but this bend in the road I am still just filled with a simple open-eyed wonder about the whole thing.

We can build a computer that almost understands language. I think to myself. That's really quite astounding.

Watson seems very polite, very adept at his tasks, but of course he doesn't really understand what he is doing, as is made clear in those discordant moments when he answers inappropriately.

Watson is undeniably advanced, but had cannot as yet go to a coffee shop and share lives with people like what our finest minds dream about. It's still strictly in the minds of illustrators, film-makers and writers.

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