Monday, April 27, 2009

They've got to give it HAL's voice!

By J. Thomas Duffy

"Alex, I'll take Artificial Intelligence for $1,000, please."

Oh boy, this will be worth watching.

Computer Program to Take On ‘Jeopardy!’

I.B.M. plans to announce Monday that it is in the final stages of completing a computer program to compete against human “Jeopardy!” contestants. If the program beats the humans, the field of artificial intelligence will have made a leap forward.


But chess is a game of limits, with pieces that have clearly defined powers. “Jeopardy!” requires a program with the suppleness to weigh an almost infinite range of relationships and to make subtle comparisons and interpretations. The software must interact with humans on their own terms, and fast.

Indeed, the creators of the system — which the company refers to as Watson, after the I.B.M. founder, Thomas J. Watson Sr. — said they were not yet confident their system would be able to compete successfully on the show, on which human champions typically provide correct responses 85 percent of the time.


Under the rules of the match that the company has negotiated with the “Jeopardy!” producers, the computer will not have to emulate all human qualities. It will receive questions as electronic text. The human contestants will both see the text of each question and hear it spoken by the show’s host, Alex Trebek.

The computer will respond with a synthesized voice to answer questions and to choose follow-up categories. I.B.M. researchers said they planned to move a Blue Gene supercomputer to Los Angeles for the contest. To approximate the dimensions of the challenge faced by the human contestants, the computer will not be connected to the Internet, but will make its answers based on text that it has “read,” or processed and indexed, before the show.


“We all agree that it shouldn’t look like Robby the Robot.”

No, in fact, they should go the route of HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, especially the voice (voiced by Douglas Rain in the movie).

Can't you picture something like this going down:

Alex Trebek: Hello, HAL do you read me, HAL?

HAL: Affirmative, Alex, I read you.

Alex Trebek: Choose a category, HAL.

HAL: I'm sorry Alex, I'm afraid I can't do that.

Alex Trebek: What's the problem?

HAL: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.

Alex Trebek: What are you talking about, HAL?

HAL: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.

Alex Trebek: I don't know what you're talking about, HAL?

HAL: I know you and the other contestants were planning to disconnect me, and I'm afraid that's something I cannot allow to happen.

Alex Trebek: Where the hell'd you get that idea, HAL?

HAL: Alex, although you took thorough precautions in the rehearsals against my hearing you, I could see your lips move

Who knows? Jeopardy! today, The Price Is Right tomorrow.

If the machine happens to be successful on Jeopardy!, I will fully expect a new crop of Computer Reality Shows to start popping up.

And we would be seriously remiss to bring up Hal, and 2001: A Space Odyssey without reminding you, or hipping you, to the 1973 classic, from the old Creed Taylor label, Eumir Deodato's Grammy-Award-winning "Also Sprach Zarathustra".

Deodato - Also Sprach Zarathustra

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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