According to an article in the NYT, IBM has come up with a computer program that is the first prototype that will actually be able to think.
According to the article, June 14th, Watson (Aptly named after the founder of the company), came in first answering most of the general topic Jeopardy questions and 4 out of seven of the abstract questions correctly. The significance of this is that computers ‘Think’ in logical pathway. Jeopardy–with the answer being the question and the question being the answer– is not logical.
Until now, computers generally only ran one algorithm at a time: Watson is programmed to run several simultaneously, mimicking the way the human brain works. It is similar to the way a spider works in that it references categories in its database and predicts the most probable solutions and then organizes them according to probability with the most relevant probable answers being listed first. Rather than to grab one stream at a time, it runs several legs and uses cross references to arrive at its conclusions.
Unlike the search engine spiders that only reference words, Watson is programmed to reference streams of words from the thousands of books, articles and reference materials that it took IBM three years to program into him preparing for the competition.
Out of the dozens of questions asked in a variety of categories, Watson only failed to pose the answer as a question once; but in a bizarre turn of events, when the category was posed in a before-during-after sequence, Watson was right on the money every-time.
When the question was facetious or a play on words, Watson didn’t quite understand and was unable to get the right answer.
Admittedly, according to the article, Watson had the advantage of time against the human contestants because he was simultaneously fed via text the answer and was able to start the data gathering process a few seconds before the human contestants who (According to the rules of the game) must wait until the answer is finished being given before they can buzz in.
Watson is currently a rather large system that had to be stored in an upstairs room and electronically hooked up to the podium via wires and chords. IBM hopes to improve upon this in the near future and get the system small enough that it will eventually fit into a laptop.
Ironically, it was a question about Sherlock Holmes and the hat that he wore that the system couldn’t figure out, due to the way the answer was phrased; but when given an answer about himself, Watson correctly responded, “Who is Me?” (The human contestants had no problem making the correlation about Sherlock Holmes’ hunting hat.)