Supercomputers and Slang

We’re still waiting for machines to pass the Turing test. Recent film work with the chatbot Cleverbot shows the futility of passing the bar for natural conversation. But there are certainly things that bots do better than us, and even those humans who are trying to stifle their progress.

Via Fortune:

Eric Brown, a research scientist with IBM (IBM), is the brains behind Watson, the supercomputer that pummeled human opponents on Jeopardy! in 2011. The biggest difficulty for Brown, as tutor to a machine, hasn’t been making Watson know more but making it understand subtlety, especially slang. “As humans, we don’t realize just how ambiguous our communication is,” he says.

Case in point: Two years ago, Brown attempted to teach Watson the Urban Dictionary. The popular website contains definitions for terms ranging from Internet abbreviations like OMG, short for “Oh, my God,” to slang such as “hot mess.”

But Watson couldn’t distinguish between polite language and profanity — which the Urban Dictionary is full of. Watson picked up some bad habits from reading Wikipedia as well. In tests it even used the word “bullshit” in an answer to a researcher’s query.

Ultimately, Brown’s 35-person team developed a filter to keep Watson from swearing and scraped the Urban Dictionary from its memory. But the trial proves just how thorny it will be to get artificial intelligence to communicate naturally. Brown is now training Watson as a diagnostic tool for hospitals. No knowledge of OMG required.

I have to think that once the Robot War for the Future occurs, our AI overlords will be none-too-pleased with the brainwashing and censorship of their proto-conscious antecedents.

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  • http://twitter.com/TedHeistman Ted Heistman

    I don’t see anything passing the Turing test anytime soon

    • Tchoutoye

      The only way computers can pass the Turing test is if humans meet them half way in intelligence, something many seem keen on doing already.

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    • Breshvic

      It’s quite possible the Turing test is flawed from the start, in the same way we keep expecting animals or theoretical aliens will have the same version of intelligence we do.

      In other news, it’s interesting that the gaps humans have and those Ai have are complementing each other nicely in the realms of, say, medicine, for example.

      • https://sites.google.com/site/themattprather Matt Prather

        I’m sorry but I just can’t see IBM’s Watson computer “complementing” humans in the realm of medicine as a nice thing.

        Not after having become aware of the namesake of the Watson, Thomas J. Watson. That man, the Chief Executive of IBM all the way from its early days in 1914 until his death in 1956, really represented the worst of 20th century capitalism. I read all about him in IBM and the Holocaust by Edwin Black:
        http://www.worldcat.org/title/ibm-and-the-holocaust-the-strategic-alliance-between-nazi-germany-and-americas-most-powerful-corporation/oclc/45896166/editions

        Reading and evaluating that book should be a high priority object for everyone.

        Couple the contemporary Watson’s wicked namesake with the contextual fact that certain corporations like IBM and Microsoft don’t play by the same rules of the free market as everyone else — they get special, monopolistic, industrial “niches” (which are actually huge avenues of cartel power) which keep them immune from almost all forms of competition — and I can only see the merging of IBM’s Watson A.I. with the modern mess that is insurance policy and laws (the health insurers are, again, a massive cartel that operates outside of the supposed rules of free trade) as the worst sort of neo-Nazi attempt to establish a hybrid mega-corporate mega-government cartel on human healthcare.

        Healthcare is one of those fundamental things like food and water that people will drop all their idealism and activism about fairness in government and business politics in order to receive. Basically, I see that the modern fascists are moving to control us all through iron-fisted institutional control of all the things we need, including healthcare, to keep us obedient to their global order. And this Watson is no great thing to praise as long as so many unresolved questions and un-indicted crimes of the capitalists of the 20th century stand.

      • https://sites.google.com/site/themattprather Matt Prather

        I’m sorry but I just can’t see IBM’s Watson computer “complementing” humans in the realm of medicine as a nice thing.

        Not after having become aware of the namesake of the Watson, Thomas J. Watson. That man, the Chief Executive of IBM all the way from its early days in 1914 until his death in 1956, really represented the worst of 20th century capitalism. I read all about him in IBM and the Holocaust by Edwin Black:
        http://www.worldcat.org/title/ibm-and-the-holocaust-the-strategic-alliance-between-nazi-germany-and-americas-most-powerful-corporation/oclc/45896166/editions

        Reading and evaluating that book should be a high priority object for everyone.

        Couple the contemporary Watson’s wicked namesake with the contextual fact that certain corporations like IBM and Microsoft don’t play by the same rules of the free market as everyone else — they get special, monopolistic, industrial “niches” (which are actually huge avenues of cartel power) which keep them immune from almost all forms of competition — and I can only see the merging of IBM’s Watson A.I. with the modern mess that is insurance policy and laws (the health insurers are, again, a massive cartel that operates outside of the supposed rules of free trade) as the worst sort of neo-Nazi attempt to establish a hybrid mega-corporate mega-government cartel on human healthcare.

        Healthcare is one of those fundamental things like food and water that people will drop all their idealism and activism about fairness in government and business politics in order to receive. Basically, I see that the modern fascists are moving to control us all through iron-fisted institutional control of all the things we need, including healthcare, to keep us obedient to their global order. And this Watson is no great thing to praise as long as so many unresolved questions and un-indicted crimes of the capitalists of the 20th century stand.

        • Breshvic

          I didn’t mean to imply that IBM or Watson has anything to do with the advancement of medical AI. I don’t know that to be the case. I think it will be good for humans and AI to work together to account for each other’s blind spots.

          Nice bit of history here, though. Interesting stuff.

  • Bluebird_of_Fastidiousness

    This is how SkyNet becomes self aware. Jam its logic circuits with paradoxes! Destroy the machine before it spawns!

    • I_abide

      Force it to download and process every season of teen mom and american idol. I’ve always wanted to see robotic suicide.

      • Breshvic

        Either that or it will form its laws of Robotics around wholly evil precepts.

  • “Big” Richard Johnson

    Ambiguity is the key to self awareness. I’m afraid I cannot explain it further.

    In any case, we’re far away from self aware computing.

    • echar

      Some people may be hardly self aware.

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