Updated: Tuesday, 15 Feb 2011, 6:50 PM EST
Published : Tuesday, 15 Feb 2011, 9:02 AM EST
FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) - This week, Jeopardy and IBM are making history by pitting a computer named Watson against two game show champs. Computer experts say the experiment will have far-reaching implications.
"About three years ago IBM came to us and said they're interested in building a computer that could play Jeopardy," said Jeopardy Executive Producer Harry Friedman. "Jeopardy represents the epitome of a challenge for computers to understand because it utilizes natural language in a way that people can easily understand but not be understood by computers."
Watson is competing against Ken Jennings, who won 74 consecutive games, and Brad Rutter, Jeopardy's all-time biggest money winner.
Executive Producer Harry Friedman says although the tournament probably won't end the debate over who is smarter, man or machine, it will have practical applications.
"What appealed to us about this is that out of all of this is going to come technology that's gonna make a difference in a lot of ways in people's lives and in the world," explained Friedman.
IPFW professor Britton Wolfe says the key is bridging the language gap by teaching a machine to interpret things like metaphors, idioms, and nuances that humans fully understand.
"Think about all the web pages that have natural language, all the news reports, all the books that have been digitized, official transcripts of things like Congressional proceedings and court documents and doctors' dictation notes - all of these things that contain a lot of information, but they're in a natural language form. Computers, up to this point, haven't been able to deal with very well," Wolfe said.
Local Mensa member and 4th grade teacher Dan Klopfenstein is watching the tournament closely. He said when it comes to data input, storage, and retrieval, computers have a distinct advantage.
"The ambiguities of language are what they're trying to get the computer to figure out," said Klopfenstien. "Computers don't do ambiguity. And language is very ambiguous."
IBM's Dr. David Ferrucci said, " We believe that Watson is the first step in technology that will make computers deal more naturally in human terms, will help businesses, and will have broad social impact."
Wolfe said he forsees the technology not just being used in the computer industry, but also in the medical field. "If a doctor has a patient with certain symptoms and he could ask the computer in a natural language form, 'Is there a disease that's been going around this county that has these symptoms?' If the computer can tap into that natural language data then you could get an answer to that question," said Wolfe.
Still, both men are confident that machines could never fully replace people.
Britton Wolfe said, "I think there's a long way to go until we get to a point where a computer can just arbitrarily learn information."
"Now that we've developed these incredibly sophisticated thinking, learning machines, are they someday gonna take over? I think there will always be things that humans do that machine and computers just can't do," agreed Klopfentstein.
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