Computer program to take on Jeopardy, according to the NYT. This is the only thing I ever watch on television (well, some NFL playoffs are fun) and I love the show. It’s just hard enough to make you think you’re smart if you get the right answer, and just easy enough that you do get most of the answers. Perfect for every egotist, including this one. It’s no fun if a computer can beat the game designers, though. I admire IBM for coming up with the program but some mysteries are better left alone.
I.B.M. scientists previously devised a chess-playing program to run on a supercomputer called Deep Blue. That program beat the world champion Garry Kasparov in a controversial 1997 match (Mr. Kasparov called the match unfair and secured a draw in a later one against another version of the program).
But chess is a game of limits, with pieces that have clearly defined powers. “Jeopardy!” requires a program with the suppleness to weigh an almost infinite range of relationships and to make subtle comparisons and interpretations. The software must interact with humans on their own terms, and fast.
“The big goal is to get computers to be able to converse in human terms,” said the team leader, David A. Ferrucci, an I.B.M. artificial intelligence researcher. “And we’re not there yet.”
The team is aiming not at a true thinking machine but at a new class of software that can “understand” human questions and respond to them correctly. Such a program would have enormous economic implications.
Despite more than four decades of experimentation in artificial intelligence, scientists have made only modest progress until now toward building machines that can understand language and interact with humans.
The way to deal with such problems, Dr. Ferrucci said, is to improve the program’s ability to understand the way “Jeopardy!” clues are offered. The complexity of the challenge is underscored by the subtlety involved in capturing the exact meaning of a spoken sentence. For example, the sentence “I never said she stole my money” can have seven different meanings depending on which word is stressed.
“We love those sentences,” Dr. Nyberg said. “Those are the ones we talk about when we’re sitting around having beers after work.”