t's official: Machines are better than humans at "Jeopardy!" An IBM supercomputer called Watson handily defeated the two greatest human contestants in the game show's history in a three-night battle that concluded Wednesday. The machine made a few goofs — including confusing Toronto for an American city — but proved dominant, coming away with a total of $77,147 to Ken Jennings' $24,000 and Brad Rutter's $21,600. If machines can beat humans at trivia, are they just plain smarter than us? (Watch Watson's final day performance)
We should be proud that computers are smarter than us: '"Quiz show contestant"' may be the first job made redundant by Watson, says contestant Ken Jennings at Slate, but "it won't be the last." IBM hopes the machine will be useful in everything from medical diagnosis to tech support. But these man-made machines are a symbol of human "ingenuity," not a threat to it — until, of course, they start thinking for themselves and figure out "the nuclear launch codes."
"My puny human brain"
Watson is a useless PR gimmick: "Don't worry: Computers aren't going to take over the world any time soon," says Matt Blum at Wired. Programming computers to beat humans at "Jeopardy" and chess is a "neat" trick, but it's really just a "meaningless publicity stunt." The thing that would "truly bring computers close to humans," though, is "versatility." Call me when Watson can "write blog posts and program computers."
"Why Watson's 'Jeopardy!' win is mostly meaningless"
Either way, it inspired curiosity: "Well, that was… fun? Instructive? Terrifying?" says Noel Murray at The A.V. Club. It doesn't really matter whether you think Watson is a threat to human rule or just an amusing "parlor trick." Either way, you have to admit this new "Jeopardy" champ has inspired people to think about how learning machines might influence our future, just as Deep Blue's chess victory over Garry Kasparov.
"'Jeopardy': IBM challenge"
Watson should have played a fairer game: Watson can buzz in, "quickly and emotionlessly," within 10 milliseconds of a clue's completion, says James Poniewozik at Time. That's a huge, unfair advantage among "Jeopardy" champions, who all know most of the answers and simply race to see who hits the buzzer first. So Watson "won a speed contest," but for a real test of knowledge, maybe it should compete in a slower game: "Trivial Pursuit, maybe?"
"Watson vs. the humans, night three: GUI defeats human!"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why I'm a pro-life liberal
- 31 TV shows to watch in 2014
- He said he was leaving. She ignored him.
- If a nuclear bomb exploded in downtown Washington, what should you do?
- Why we can't stop procrastinating, according to science
- How Ukraine can fend off the Russians, in 7 simple steps
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- These stunning travel photos remind us that we're all just amateurs with iPhones
- There's a number of reasons the grammar of this headline could infuriate you
- How to make homemade marshmallow Peeps
Subscribe to the Week