Dec 17, 2016

The Paris Hilton Problem… with Artificial Intelligence

The fear and excitement of artificial intelligence or thinking machines has been a popular conversation for decades. Movies like The Terminator or A.I. conceptualize the debate as machines becoming self aware and taking over the world (literally). While not being a technological luddite, we are getting closer to the ability of computers to think like humans, and is this necessarily a good thing? A recent New York Times article states:

The implications of progress in A.I. are being brought into sharp relief now by the broadcasting of a recorded competition pitting the I.B.M. computing system named Watson against the two best human Jeopardy players, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

Watson is an effort by I.B.M. researchers to advance a set of techniques used to process human language. It provides striking evidence that computing systems will no longer be limited to responding to simple commands. Machines will increasingly be able to pick apart jargon, nuance and even riddles. In attacking the problem of the ambiguity of human language, computer science is now closing in on what researchers refer to as the “Paris Hilton problem” — the ability, for example, to determine whether a query is being made by someone who is trying to reserve a hotel in France, or simply to pass time surfing the Internet.

If, as many predict, Watson defeats its human opponents on Wednesday, much will be made of the philosophical consequences of the machine’s achievement. Moreover, the I.B.M. demonstration also foretells profound sociological and economic changes.

Watson competes on Jeopardy

As computers are able perform tasks at a reduced cost to the employer, will jobs become obsolete? If computer can understand human language, riddles and possibly even jokes, do we need to rethink what it means to be human? Is is ethical to abolish all technology that has an obvious possible determent to society? However, what about A.I.’s positive impact in the field of scientific research and increased quality of life? Where does one draw the line in the sand when creating technology that can think and anticipate and calculate like humans (but at an increased rate and infinite storage capacity)???

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