Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Rise of the Machines

IBM's Supercomputer Watson destroyed Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter on Jeopardy! last night. Final score: Jennings $4,800, Rutter $10,400, and Watson $35,734

During the game it was difficult not to make nervous comparisons to Skynet and the rise of our Terminator-style mechanized overlords. But Watson's designers are evoking a different technological movie villain. Watson's singular glowing eye references HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, a symbol of cold, deadly, inhuman precision.

Still, look again at the physical avatar for the Jeopardy! champ. He evokes the other, more benevolent force from 2001, The Monolith.

The Monolith was itself an avatar of the spirit of change in the nature of humanity. The Monolith watched (or catalyzed) the dawn of man as apes took up their first tools/weapons. The Monolith was there to greet humankind as they took their first steps onto the moon, and it was on Jupiter's moon of Europa as we were introduced to our first non-terrestrial life.

Now we have our choice. Do we view Watson and the supercomputers that will replace him as HAL or the monolith? Inhuman villains or catalyst for the next stage in human evolution?

Clearly we are on the cusp of a revolution. Which side will you choose?
Those who like winning should side with the machines.

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