Kasparov on IBM's Watson

| 0 | Chess Event Coverage
Kasparov on IBM's WatsonLast week, in a special, three-day Jeopardy! episode, IBM's participant "Watson" defeated the two most successful human participants ever. The chess fans were curious about one thing: what would Garry Kasparov think of this, fourteen years after losing to IBM's Deep Blue?

IBM saw it as the next grand challenge in computing: designing a computer system that could understand the complexities of natural language well enough to compete against Jeopardy!'s best players. Already three years ago they contacted the Jeopardy! producers, and last week it was finally arranged: a special episode, on February 14-16, in which the show's most celebrated and successful human participants (Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter) would compete against IBM's room-size computer "Watson".

In case you have missed it: despite answering the category U.S. Cities question "Its largest airport is named for a World War II hero; its second largest for a World War II battle" with "Toronto", Watson won hands down. Here's the show:

Besides winning the one million dollar prize and gaining lots of world-wide publicity, what did IBM achieve with participating in the contest? Here's a special IBM video on the contest, with some of their own people looking back and trying to explain the meaning of their victory.

Has IBM proven that "the company has taken a big step toward a world in which intelligent machines will understand and respond to humans, and perhaps inevitably, replace some of them," as The New York Times put it? Well, not yet, according to Garry Kasparov.

Kasparov famously lost a match against IBM's Deep Blue in 1997. With The Atlantic (an American general editorial magazine focusing on foreign affairs, politics, and the economy as well as cultural trends) Kasparov shared his thoughts on the three-day contest.

According to Kasparov, the true test of Watson's significance will be whether it can be translated "into something useful, something ground breaking".

If the result—the chess move, the Jeopardy answer—is all that matters, it's a success. If how the result is achieved matters more, I'm not so sure.

The 13th World Champion admits that IBM has achieved something in the language area:

To me, this means Watson is doing good job of breaking language down into points of data it can mine very quickly, and that it does it slightly better than Google does against the entire Internet.

What's next for Watson? In the mean time IBM has announced a deal with Nuance Communications to “explore, develop, and commercialize the Watson computing system’s advanced analytics capabilities in the healthcare industry,” as Techcrunch noted.


A strong human Jeopardy! player, or a human doctor, may get the answer wrong, but he is unlikely to make a huge blunder or category error—at least not without being aware of his own doubts. We are also good at judging our own level of certainty. A computer can simulate this by an artificial confidence measurement, but I would not like to be the patient who discovers the medical equivalent of answering "Toronto" in the "US Cities" category, as Watson did.
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