Wednesday, August 19, 2009


An Editorial

Recently, the IBM corporation announced that it is working on refining the next generation of voice recognition software.
WATSON, the computer currently using the new program, is tentatively scheduled to receive a major field test when it competes on the quiz show Jeopardy! sometime during the Spring of 2010, akin to when the IBM computer "Big Blue" participated in chess competitions.
Now I am all for developing technology to the next level, but this news leaves me scratching my head in wonder.
While "Big Blue" was able to logically process all the variables in something as complex as a chess game, it must be noted that its knowledge of chess was based upon practically every professionally played game on record being inputted into its memory banks along with detailed reports of all the Grand Masters of the game for analysis of any given move from any perspective at any moment.
The program for the new computer will have a similar objective. WATSON (named after the location of the IBM research center) is being developed to know and recognize any possible nuance of human speech, from slang to dialect and every variable in between, and respond accordingly.
Now I can foresee all kinds of practical applications for voice recognition software (such as helping the blind) even without getting into the realms of science-fiction programs like the Star Trek franchise.
But to compete on Jeopardy?
It has been said that a computer is only as good as the people behind its programming and the person at the keyboard.
WATSON is certain to have numerous data bases on file, which might give it an unfair advantage against other contestants.
But provided the voice recognition software works as expected, will it be as fast on the signaling button compared to the other (human) players, let alone able to supply the correct question within the allotted time?
While a specific date has not been finalized, the computer is scheduled to compete against former College and Tournament of Champions winners. There are even (unconfirmed at this time) reports that all-time Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings might compete against WATSON as well.

Whatever the outcome, it will definitely be interesting to watch.

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