Current ads for IBM’s Watson supercomputer suggest that the machine can “outthink” competition.

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It seems to me that this a very dangerous, yet subtle misunderstanding of humanity’s true relationship with nature and attributing even marginal human capabilities to software/hardware is a huge mistake.

While the software that runs Watson is obviously the product of an immense intelligence – the work of a huge team of computer scientists and programmers – the machine itself is inanimate.

The insidious suggestion that there is no obvious, clear and deep differentiation between what is animate and inanimate is leading our species into a very dark area.

We must never lose sight of the most significant fact that Watson mimics human (Life’s organic) intelligence with electronic precision but it is not actually aware or sentient.

Even if Watson could pass the Turing test and fool a human into thinking she is speaking to another person, the reality beneath its hood is so far from what nature has created within us, that to ignore it is to surrender our humanity.

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Watson is basically an incredibly powerful search engine, which is able to cross reference and algorithmically assess millions of snippets of information with lightening speed.

How Watson answers a question:

  • Watson searches millions of documents to find thousands of possible answers
  • Collects evidence and uses a scoring algorithm to rate the quality of this evidence
  • Ranks all possible answers based on the score of its supporting evidence

Consider how you answer a question or “think.”  Your responses come out of silence; while you may search your memory for information many things that come out of your mouth are even unexpected.

Moreover, as a human you have a wide range of options. Frequently you may respond reactively – “without thinking”– which may seem to give Watson an advantage.

But how often do you recognize that the answer came “unbidden” – you don’t know what made you say that – which suggests a reservoir of connection that has little to do with “searching” a database and a great deal more to suggest that you are connecting to a mysterious but massive source of actual intelligence.

Watson analyzes data but its approach to “meaning” is an algorithm that “ranks” possible responses.

In a job interview, for example, we may do something similar and decide against a flip answer or an exaggeration, and we may also come up with the “perfect” response based on an intuitive connection with the questioner or a subliminal awareness of our surroundings.

Watson may “notice” something — like a photograph of Reagan on the wall and the algorithm may even allow it to come up with a quote or even frame an answer conservatively as a result of registering Reagan’s image — but a computer will never, ever, understand the context.

IBM disagrees. And of course as part of its promotional campaign its software defeated three champions on Jeopardy. But if you read how it was done you will see that it was analogous to programmed trading on the stock exchange — it was a matter of rapidly plumbing databases with no comprehension.

According to IBM Watson DOES understand context – but based on what?

It seems that by recognizing patterns, as the video suggests, Watson mimics the left brain through logic and analysis, and it is a remarkable achievement.

But humans know that there are other dimensions to “learning” beyond gathering information and recognizing patterns. Growth often happens through inspiration or human intervention, aspects of the right brain that Watson is completely unable to simulate or comprehend.

IBM Watson Creates First Movie Trailer

From about how the trailer was created:

“In order to program Watson to understand what fear is, the research team at IBM got Watson to analyze 100 classic horror movies, examining each scene for consistencies and triggers that lead to the scarier aspects of the films. This included a visual analysis of what was happening on screen, an audio analysis of what was being said or how people were reacting, and a composition analysis that examined how the two facets worked in tandem together.”

This is all wonderful stuff but it begs the difference between information and understanding.

Information requires calculation and storage.

Understanding requires a mind.

Until science stops trying to narrow the focus of inquiry to avoid the inconvenient truth of consciousness (mental awareness and actual thought) the efforts of scientists to control nature will be doomed to failure.

Consciousness is an undeniable fact along with sentience. Watson and artificial intelligence, no matter what their achievements or how prodigious, can never be a real substitute for the Life force that created them.

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