News Flash: IBM’s “Watson” Supercomputer Set to Take On Jeopardy Champs

Deep-Thought1-300x222 Mirroring "Deep Thought," the galactic supercomputer in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, IBM's  supercomputer Deep Blue defeated chess world champion Gary Kasparoff in 1997 in what was dubbed  “the most spectacular chess event in history.”

Tonight, IBM supercomputer "Watson" is set to square off tonight in a historic Valentine’s Day encounter against Jeopardy champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in a new test of artificial intelligence.

IBM scientists say the competition represents the next evolution in the quest to design computers that can beat humans at their own game. The competition lasts three nights and concludes on Wednesday.

“It’s not science fiction anymore,” Dr. Bernard S. Meyerson, IBM’s vice president for innovation, told during a recent interview at IBM’s Watson lab in Yorktown Heights, New York. “The human brain is an awesome thing. The reason Watson is amazing is that it took a human brain to design the actual underlying software and structure. This isn’t something that the machine invented. The machine is a consequence of it.”

“Grand challenges like this move the needle,” said Meyerson, who was appointed an IBM fellow, the company’s highest technical honor, in 1992. “If you get it right, the world will be different when you’re done.”

The grand prize is $1 million; second place wins $300,000; third place receives $200,000. Jennings and Rutter have pledged 50 percent of their winnings to charity; IBM will donate all of its prize.

Powered by 90 IBM Power 750 servers, Watson uses 15 terabytes of RAM, 2,880 processor cores and can operate at 80 teraflops, or 80 trillion operations per second, according to the company.

“We did this because we’re up against something that’s an act of genius, the brain,” said Meyerson, who earned his Ph.D. in Solid-State Physics from the City College of the City University of New York in 1980. “The fact is that a human being is impossible to beat right now, in the sense of power efficiency, because you’ve got this little 20-watt thing, the brain, going up against many kilowatts.”

If Watson wins this week, it will be a seminal milestone in the development of artificial intelligence.

Artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence after 2020, predicts Vernor Vinge, a world-renowned pioneer in AI, who has warned about the risks and opportunities that an electronic super-intelligence would offer to mankind.

"It seems plausible that with technology we can, in the fairly near future," says scifi legend Vernor Vinge, "create (or become) creatures who surpass humans in every intellectual and creative dimension. Events beyond such an event — such a singularity — are as unimaginable to us as opera is to a flatworm."

"The Singularity" is seen by some as the end point of our current culture, when the ever-accelerating evolution of technology finally overtakes us and changes everything.  It's been represented as everything from the end of all life to the beginning of a utopian age, which you might recognize as the endgames of most other religious beliefs.

While the definitions of the Singularity are as varied as people's fantasies of the future, with a very obvious reason, most agree that artificial intelligence will be the turning point. To some, it might
be called the ultimate "jeopardy."

Once an AI is even the tiniest bit smarter than us, it'll be able to learn faster and we'll simply never be able to keep up.  This will render us utterly obsolete in evolutionary terms, or at least in evolutionary terms as presented by people who view academic intelligence as the only possible factor.

There's no question that technology is progressing at an ever-accelerating rate – we've generated more world-changing breakthroughs in the last fifty years than the entirety of previous human history combined. 

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