Thursday, February 17, 2011

Watson (Technology)

He doesn't look as smart as Jude Law.

Trivia dorks beware, your hobby is in danger of being taken over by computers!!!  This is more or less true if you were to pit yourself up against this beast, named Watson.  Watson is a giant room with a bunch of servers hooked up together to compete in Jeopardy against former champions Ken Jennings (the guy that won 74 games in a row) and Brad Rutter (the guy that won the most money on the show, three and a quarter million).  It was designed with the intent to see if humans could program a computer to understand the human language well enough to answer some of the tricky, wordy, intuitive questions that Trebek could dish out.

So when a question is asked, it is essentially text messaged (or whatever) to Watson through what I can imagine as a bunch of tubes and then it tries to guess the answer.  A bunch of bars appear at the bottom of the screen to give the audience its top three answers and the certainty of each one.  However, its guess is as good as anyone's.  When answering a question about trains, it had 97% "confidence" that "finis" was the right answer, unfortunately; the very human trait of "thinking hard about something makes it true" does not work in Jeopardy.  Furthermore, it is in its own computer world as far as the game goes.  It does not know if one of the other contestants even answer the question previously.  In one instance, Ken answered a question incorrectly with the answer "What is the 20s?"  Watson then quickly buzzed in with a moderate "confidence" and said "What is the 1920s?"  Copying your neighbors work does not always work in high school and I think that translates well to games shows too.  Stick that logic in your mainframe and process it, Watson!

What is NO STUPID!!!!???? You're not human, no matter how much improper punctuation you use!!! 
Speaking of being in its own computer world we also see a flaw in his association with the category name when pertaining to the question asked.  During final Jeopardy, the category was "US Cities."  Watson answered the question with the response "What is Toronto?"  What!?  Its not even in the US.  Nice try, supercomputer, now paint yourself yellow with uncertainty (yes the color of his avatar changes based on how stupid he acts).  He made a similar mistake on the final day, he was asked about a review that the New Yorker did on a publication of sorts and responded with a person.

Deep Blue on Futurama.

It was a little upsetting when Trebek responded to Watson when it repeated Ken Jennings wrong answer.  Its not like its going to respond.  "Oh, sorry Alex I was too busy doing random calculations to pay attention to Ken."  It is not some guy that is playing Jeopardy, its a computer screen with a man voice!  Changing it to a woman voice does not make it a woman!  However, it does have an attraction to women apparently.  Watson appeared on Conan, where as a guest host, it tore into Andy Richter and shared its sexual experiences that it had with his wife.  Once again, Watson has advanced computers far beyond that of his older counterpart, Deep Blue (the worlds best chess playing computer, which in turn makes it the computer least likely to find a date for the prom).  It could only manage to be a guest appearance on the cartoon "Futurama" with less lines.

As far as everything goes, Watson proves that humans can create complex algorithms that exceed their own creators expectations, however; I do not believe this proves that we are anywhere close to AI.  Watson is a search algorithm, nothing more.  It is not smart because it is not intuitive.  Every time it answered a question wrong, it was way off.  There is still much to be done to perfect Watson even though its already so advanced and impressive.  Unfortunately, I am tough to impress, call me when someone programs a computer to win "Ninja Warrior."

Monday, February 7, 2011

Feminists v Gamers (Social)

"We have to talk about how it is humanly possible that something this kick-ass could have actually happened.  To do so, we have to understand what it means to have a penis on the Internet."
-Sean "Day[9]" Plott, Computer Jock (speaking of two gamers fighting over the internet, not on this matter)

Penny Arcade nerds.

So apparently there are some angry feminists out there who want some computer nerds dead, nothing to see here.  Well, maybe not.  Shakesville (a feminist blog) focused its attention to Penny Arcade (a nerd comic place) about issues revolving rape, rape culture, dicks, dick-wolfs, and everything in between.  Normally, this would just be another day on the Internet; however, this time the attention span of the Internet got a little longer.

Starting all the way back in August of 2010, Penny Arcade produced a comic illustrating quest completion and what that means to those who are left behind (The Sixth Slave).  In the strip, the hero rescues five slaves, as his quests demands, and then leaves the sixth slave behind to be tortured by phallic canines.  Within one day, Shakesville commences pointing the moral finger of the internet at Penny Arcade, accusing the writers as being insensitive and propagators of rape culture.  Thus begins, the angry feminists versus angry gamers feud.

I am not going to go into a long description about what happened in between then and now because, frankly, it's a lot.  I will certainly voice my all knowing/important opinion as well as that of a hardcore, even angrier, feminist (my all knowing/important girlfriend).

 My Reaction (a gamer's perspective):

This whole mess could be pin-pointed to the comic itself; however, as far as things go the reaction to the comic reflects how offensive it really is.  Over-exaggerated.  Shakesville went on the horn making the comic out to be an insensitive rape joke when it was not the central focus of the strip.  The comic does promote rape culture but you cannot call an English major a moron if he or she cannot do Calculus.  The creators of the comic did not know what rape culture is.  They most likely associated that with directly being associated with rape and/or rapists.  Their reaction was typical of someone who is being accused of something they think they are not.

All in all, the problem is the culture that is wrapped around the Internet, mainly, the bloggosphere.  This whole issue could have been reasonably solved if instead of raising a pen, Shakesville raised awareness.  A simple message explaining and educating about rape culture instead of attacking Penny Arcade would have been more effective in getting the desired results.  Unfortunately, this is the Internet.  Everyone has an opinion and apparently everyone else needs to know about.  Everyone wants to be a super-hero but its much easier when you are safe behind a monitor.  Everyone has egos as big as their following of keyboard warriors.

My Girlfriend's Reaction (a feminist's perspective):

I think that the activists who reacted strongly to the PA comic strip were well intentioned. When young women (or men) come to recognize themselves as feminists things that previously went un-noticed become enraging, which is a good thing.  We should all be more pissed off about the offensive crap we see and hear every day.  However, had that same person seen the comic strip 6 months earlier, prior to completing her or his WMST 101 course, he or she would have thought nothing of it.  It is in the least self-righteous and at most ignorantly over zealous to expect the general public to know what you've only just learned about rape culture. And while heated discussions are productive, even when misinformed, to learn and express oneself, the internet is not confined to the safety of your Socratic discussion class.  The permanency of blog posts caused what could have been a short, enlightening debate into an epic saga.  And in the meantime, victims were vilified, shamed, and silenced.

When we allege to speak up for a victim who is not ourself, we steal his or her voice in an attempt to make a more compelling argument.  Co-opting someone else's experience does not make us more right or our point more clear.  And really, that comic is not offensive solely because their might be a sexual assault survivor somewhere in the interwebs reading it, although that may be simplest way to try to gain sympathy.  It's offensive because it perpetuates a culture that excuses violence against women because our society undervalues us, which is reflected constantly in many more spaces and venues than a video game blog. I'm all about subverting the dominant paradigm, but I know that yelling at some video game nerds is not going to get me anywhere, and I'm sure many other feminists learned that important lesson.

The way the world works.
Apparently gamers and feminists can co-exist.  Obviously, my girlfriend (the one who minored in Women's Studies and went onto being an activist) has more insightful things to say on the matter than I (a computer scientist), but we agree on this matter.  What could have been an opportunity to educate turned into a "who has a bigger Internet penis" contest.