Ever since I was a kid and interested in science fiction, computers and robots were presented as thinking, interactive machines, like emotionally restrained people. From Robot on "Lost in Space" to the computer on Star Trek and the literary creations of Isaac Asimov, these devices would not only communicate clearly, but express curiosity and challenge the humans who worked with them.
Alan Turing, in his 1950 paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence, presented concepts on how machines could be said to think and some of the conditions where we could successfully say that Artificial Intelligence (AI) was working. The most memorable was where a person could have an on-line conversation with a computer and not know if they had spoken to another human or a machine. Confidentially, I've had on-line conversations with people who were indistinguishable from machines, but I don't think the test is intended to go the other way.
So, today, many people are going to gather around their television sets, or whatever the kids are using these days, to watch an IBM computer compete openly with two established champions in the quiz show Jeopardy. That's the serious game show, not like Hollywood Squares or Joker's Wild (or even the revered Price is Right). This is the show that smart people watch and play. It's the intellectual game show. This is a big deal. If this computer melts down and looks stupid there are going to be a great number of intellectuals who won't be inviting computers to parties.
Clearly they guys at Watson Research have worked with this enough that the computer is going to have a reasonable showing. I'm guessing that it won't have any trouble with the buzzer. Think about what this machine has to be able to do, though. It has to be able to hear and understand the question-- something that is beyond the ability of many human customer-support people. It has to make sense of the question and find a relative answer, something that is beyond most politicians in the world. Then it has to return that answer in the form of a question-- which actually may not be so tough; you just have to put "who is" or "what is" on the front of everything.
Personally, I think the implications of this technology are astounding. While we are years away from common usage, this opens the door to natural language queries of world knowledge. You think that you're slick with your search engine. Wait till your grandkids can just ask the wall for all of the things that they once would have asked you. Look at the potential for devices that can find you factual answers about procedures, directions and other things that demand a person's intellect simply to interpret the information correctly. Think of the potential for intelligent machine companions who can help someone take better care of themselves by interacting with them directly. This is all mind blowing. I know that I will see some of this come to pass in my lifetime.
I don't know when or where Jeopardy comes on for you. For me it is today at 4:30 PM. The contest will run every day through Wednesday. Personally, my bet is on the humans, just because I have a hard time imagining that computers are ready to associate things better than the human mind. But if the computer makes a showing at all it will be an amazing statement on the present and future of technology.
See more about this contest at the Jeopardy web site.
I don't have much time, because I'm about to go join a number of other technology enthusiasts to watch the finale of the Watson Jeopardy showdown.
I have to say that I was really impressed with what I saw yesterday. I expected things to be close, but Watson just dominated the double-Jeopardy round. I know that the project is run by Linux servers and I suspect that there are other open-source technologies at play behind the scenes. I've written a note to Dr. Ferrucci and I'm hoping that I'll be able to connect with members of the research team to talk about how they leveraged these tools to achieve this success. Likely any tools they used will be useful to you as well! With luck, I'll be able to get different kinds of information such as interviews and maybe even actual papers about their experiences. They have reporters with really good hair from all over the world wanting to talk to them right now, so it may be a while before I can get on their list. If I do, though, I'm going to share as much about this with you as I can in every way that I can.
Good luck, humans! Watson doesn't seem to need it so much.
cmw.osdude 120000QT77 Tags:  ibm nanophotonics future integrated ic chip electronic-photonic 5,346 Views
As you probably remember, I work for IBM. We're a big company and a lot of my work, while satisfying on many levels, is... well... work! I probably deal with many of the same mysteries of the corporate world that you do. From time to time I wonder if I know the people being satirized in Dilbert. After a while it can feel like it's all about the problems and the products and the process of keeping everying going from day to day to day.
Then, some days I get a reminder of how thrilling it is to be around when someone creates the future. We saw some of that when Watson cleaned house playing against two strong apponents on Jeapardy. (See my blog entry at that time to watch it if you missed it.)
Today I find this story: IBM creates first cheap, commercially viable, electronic-photonic integrated chip
This breakthrough will make for faster and faster communication for electronics, and the technique appears to be affordable enough to actually use. That means more computing power available for media, smartphones, tablets, televisions and everything else which might house computing power. This breakthrough will permit the pushing of much more information at unimagined speeds–terabits per second!
It's unclear as to when this will make its way into marketed products, but it is a huge game-changer. I can't wait to see what happens next!
cmw.osdude 120000QT77 Tags:  blender upgrade congratulations 3d ibm community lotus connections video editing developerworks 5,307 Views
For the past few days when I went to look at my blog I was greeted with a message telling me that the software was being updated. Actually, since I'm on the inside of IBM, I knew that was going to happen and was not surprised, though I was a little impatient.
The developerWorks community runs on IBM Connections, formerly Lotus Connections, which is an application to design your own community site with, well, all the stuff that's here. (Is it just me or does IBM seem to have a lot of things that were "formerly known as..."?) The down time was to process an upgrade to the latest version of Connections. That is a massive undertaking, much like moving Joomla from 1.x to 2.x.
I'm really intrigued to see how these updates affect things. The previous site had a good deal of customization to make up for the demands of a public-facing community and the unique needs of developerWorks. As everyone who develops and integrates knows, those kind of customizations can create a lot of pain when you move into updates. It's one of the dangers of customizing, but sometimes you need to do it anyway to get what you need.
So far the site seems a lot more efficient, which is good. The editor I'm using to write this is much better than the previous one. We'll see how it goes.
Congratulations to the team who made this transition happen. You made it look easy, even though I know it wasn't.
Favorite free video editors
I'm working on a project to help people learn about doing video blogging and such. Because it's the way I am, I'm encouraging do-it-yourself (DIY) techniques which includes free and open software. On LInux I tend to use Cinelerra for my editing, though I've recently been playing with OpenShot and even Blender. Unfortunately, of those three only Blender is multi-platform. The others are currently Linux-only. (You can get a live CD/DVD which boots Linux with the software for editing, but that's suboptimal for most people.) avidemux is multi-platform, but I haven't really used it. Seems good for some general cleaning and trimming but doesn't have anything I've seen in the way of multi-track editing. I've also noted that YouTube now has a video editor, which has a similar philosophy to avidemux.
In general, I suppose I would point a complete novice who just wanted to cut out the whoopsies to the YouTube editor. But I'm curious about what others have found. Please don't bother with commercial software. It's not hard to find things to buy. It's trickier to find ways to learn.
Blender is awesome
I've been working with Blender a lot more to do some title kinds of work. I haven't done too much with it, but it's extremely powerful once you build the skills. I've been working on adding titles similar to how they did it in the series Fringe-- live 3D elements that are part of the setting. Here's one that I managed.