Our latest online Culture piece sees associate editor Kevin Clarke considering the implications (terrible, serious, probable, likely, funny) of "Watson," the IBM supercomputer, trouncing two "Jeopardy" champions at their own game. Whither the relationship between humans and computers? (Noticed I asked it in the form of a question.)
Watson, the kind-hearted (we hope) IBM supercomputer, beat humans handily at our own favorite game, “Jeopardy!,” a few weeks back, seamlessly deploying the kind of contextual reasoning once thought impossible for computers. Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, two of the most successful “Jeopardy!” geeks in history, could not turn back the silicon onslaught. Watson had earned $77,147 at the end of two days; Jennings had $24,000; Rutter, a near carbon copy with $21,600. The rest of humanity? Zero, I’m guessing. Now that we can see what Watson can do—presuming it is more than humiliate homo sapiens on game shows—are we carbon-based life forms the ones in jeopardy?
From HAL, the red-eyed menace of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and Colossus, right through to the evil, earth-stomping Skynet of the “Terminator” series, pop culture has taught us mere humans to fear the dawn of the age of artificial intelligence. (And I will make no references to the movie which dare not speak its name, but you know what I’m talking about, Jude Law). It seems that whenever silicon-based “life” comes online, its first binary thought-ish impulse is the immediate decimation of all things human—though the silicon-based forms on “Battlestar Galactica” had to acquire a theology of their own and super-hotness first. As the stylishly evil Agent Smith points out in “The Matrix” series, to machines, humans appear most like a virus: something to stamp out as quickly as possible, not superior beings to humbly—and permanently—serve.