The Latest “Checker Charley” – or something more ominous?

A week from this Thursday I’ll be attending the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library Book Club meeting to discuss his first novel, Player Piano. I’ve already posted about the book, which anticipates a future where the scale is about to tip in favor of the machines of the world, but coincidentally I’ve also learned this week of a new, real life “challenge” to human-based intelligence.

An IBM supercomputer dubbed “Watson” is going to play a game of Jeopardy against two of the game’s greatest human champions. This is reminiscent of the Kasparov-Deep Blue chess matches (and – perhaps less so – the appearance of “Checker Charley” in Vonnegut’s book), but this is also different. Chess and Checker playing programs are able to use “brute force” calculating power to defeat their human opponents. “Watson” must be able to use language recognition and other skills further up the artificial intelligence food chain.

IBM was running commercials this past weekend during the NFL playoff games and will no doubt get tons of publicity as a result of this event. I know I’ll be tuning in next month to watch, and I know who I’ll be rooting for. But… Just like watching Kasparov and other chess grandmasters face off against computer programs in the 90’s, I know that – even should one of Watson’s human opponents win – it’ll still be just a matter of time before the computers will overtake “us” in this field of competition as well.

I cant help wondering this morning what Kurt Vonnegut would be thinking about this. I also wonder what he thought about the computer vs. Human chess matches years ago. I’m going to have to do a little research on the latter, as I’m sure he would have had something to say about that.

Below is a link to an article about the match. It seems Watson has already won the practice round…