Computer is New Jeopardy Champion

Posted by · 9 Comments 

Check Out the New Blog This was a difficult newsletter to write this week because I am torn. This week there was one item in the news that created a “Wow, that is so cool.” and an “Oh my gosh, that is so scary.” moment for me. IBM Corp.’s super computer, Watson, soundly defeated two human Jeopardy champions in a three day competition. Click here for an article in the Wall Street Journal about this competition and click on the image below to watch the video of the last day of the Jeopardy competition.

Jeopardy! The IBM Challenge Day 3

So, why am I feeling conflicted? I love technology. I love that I can instantly look up almost anything I want from my phone, from anywhere. I love that I can cook a meal in minutes and don’t have to cut down firewood for the stove like our ancestors did not all that long ago.

At the same time, I would be lying if I did not admit that a computer like Watson, which really was 90 computer servers connected together behind the scenes, scares the bejeevers out of me. You see, Watson is a stepping stone. Within a decade, Watson’s capabilities and 90 servers will be replaced by maybe 45 servers, or 10 or maybe even ONE computer. Eventually, that one computer will be miniaturized to fit in the palm of our hands.

IBM’s lead engineer insisted the technology will not replace humans, and I believe him. I am confident that there are a million new ways that a computer of Watson’s capabilities will help improve the human condition from designing new building materials, developing better medications and creating whole new ways to make learning even better for each and every student. It is very exciting!

So, my questions for you this week are:

1. How do you feel about a computer winning against humans in an intellectual game like Jeopardy?
2. What do you think this technology will mean for teaching and learning during your lifetime?

Add your comments below.

About PLB


9 Responses to “Computer is New Jeopardy Champion”
  1. Andrew says:

    Technology is but an extension of the human mind. Watson represents but one of many types of cognition, and I suspect a few others will be duplicated soon. But, as others have pointed out, so long as we do not understand where or how pure creativity happens in the human mind, we cannot design machinery to mimic it.

    Our ignorance of ourselves…the magic of how our mind constructs it’s own reality… is the limitation of human race and the technology we employ. Only through spiritual growth are these limitations transcended, and when that is applied via science to technology, truly there will be no way to differentiate our biological creations from our silicon ones.

  2. joe says:

    I would be surprised if the computer had not won; it would suggest that our programmers had intellectual limitations.

    Let’s think about what Jeopardy might look like to a programmer: a game about memory and associative connections, with a grammatical twist thrown in (you get an answer, you word the question). Memory, associative connections, predictable structure: isn’t that what processors are all about? Let’s think about search engines, and all that we have learned and applied over the last 5 years in SEO (Search Engine Optimization). We (programmers, not me) figured out how to increasingly refine the ability of programs to “find the right answer,” given certain qualifying characteristics. Isn’t it cool that we could get our machine so far that we could teach it to pick up on some of the subtle associations in the language?

    Centuries ago, we figured out how to use language to store information, libraries to keep track of that information. Then we figured out how to digitize the whole thing so it takes up less space and is easier and quicker to access. We collectively figured all that out.

    Will computers ever be a threat to us? I’ve got this book sitting here on my desk – The Age of Spiritual Machines, by Ray Kurzweil. He sees us just beginning to tap the capability of the processor (and the book was published some time ago – 1999).

    I”m proud of the programmers who got Watson to that point – and yes, if they can get it down to 40, or 20, or a single server, I’ll be even prouder: because humans will have figured out how to do that.

  3. dvelner says:

    Sorry about your mixed emotions but with your creativity and independent thinking you are a visionary of the future. There is no way a super computer or any other computer will replace a good teacher. I agree with the IBM researcher. Technology and using these tools to enhance a student’s learning is what we do.

    We should be thinking about technology and other ways to make our classrooms more valuable because soon the classroom of today and yesterday will be a thing of the past. This scares the living daylights out of some people who call themselves teachers.

    Keep up the good work, you have an amazing sense of what the future will bring.

  4. Thanks for your kind words Dick!

  5. Joe and Andrew,

    Agreed. Watson is good because of me…um, ur, us. 🙂

  6. Mary says:

    The computer is only as intelligent as human beings program it to be. If we didn’t exist, they would not exist. If we could not think at high levels, they could not perform at high levels. It took the human brain to figure out how to get the computers to do this. And did the computers really do this? On their own? No, they only did what they were programmed to do. The computer did not beat humans. Humans (with a computer program) beat humans

    I think this whole exercise was a waste of time, energy and money that certainly could be used elsewhere more productively. Remember: It took 90, that’s ninety (!) computers run by how many humans to beat a human being.

    I think computer tasks and possibilities in the future will only be as productive, creative and ethically conceived as the human beings who program them design them to be. I think we should spend time teaching core values as we spend time teaching computer use. And I am the VP of a company that produces online software for children.
    I think we need to be very cognizant of people in the larger world outside our classrooms who steal our pictures and other information and misuse them. I also am weary of those who send me email every day to try to get whatever money I have to buy some app that does amazing things. Those of us who care about our children and the kind of future they face need to be watchful and involved in blocking the greedy and the mean from robbing or wrongfully using the naive.

  7. Penny says:

    I think there are other fields, including medicine, where computers like Watson could make a big difference earlier than they could to teaching. Here’s a blog post on the topic:

  8. Penny, Thanks for your thoughts regarding Watson’s potential contribution outside of education and in other areas.


Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ellen Paxton, TeacherLearningBoard. TeacherLearningBoard said: Computer is new Jeopardy Champion – […]

Did you forget your username or password?
Login here using your username and password:
Click below to find your state to register for a course.