Tuesday, April 28, 2009

HAL got 15,000 points! Again!

The wonderful thing about trivia contests such as NTN Buzztime is that they are played by humans, and sometimes humans perform better, sometimes worse. If you're stressed out about something, you're probably not going to do that well in a trivia game. If you have been taking advantage of the libations offered at many NTN Buzztime locations, your trivia skills may disintegrate as the night wears on. ("Where did my Playmaker go? Oh, it's underneath my shot glass.")

But what if the person playing alongside you is not subject to stress or the effects of alcohol? What if the person is not a person?

IBM doesn't necessarly have visibility into NTN Buzztime yet, but they certainly know about Jeopardy, according to this Technology Review article:

IBM has announced that it is developing a computer to compete on the game show Jeopardy! If the system can outwit human contestants--by comprehending and responding to a variety of questions more rapidly--artificial intelligence will have made a significant advance, the computer's developers say.

As the article notes, IBM's previous gamesmanship involved the chess-playing Deep Blue computer. Chess is a game that can be represented in mathematical and probabilistic form. A trivia show like Jeopardy is a bit tougher:

Playing Jeopardy...requires a computer to deal with a variety of subject matters, from politics to pop culture, and to answer questions based on clues that involve analyzing subtle meanings, riddles, and puns. Jeopardy! might seem a lot simpler than chess, but for a machine it's a far harder challenge.

So the next time someone denigrates you for sitting around in a bar all night answering trivia questions, it is perfectly acceptable for you to respond, "Hey, it's not like we're doing something easy like chess!"

Oh, and according to the New York Times article that Technology Review referenced, the computer will NOT be named HAL, but Watson.

I just hope that Watson remembers to provide responses in the form of a question.

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