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Posts Tagged ‘supercomputer’

The Twit-Worm Exists

April 24, 2011 Leave a comment

We laughed during the Futurama episode “Attack of the Killer App” as millions of people became infected with Mom’s “Twit-worm” and lumbered like zombies to the apple store. In this episode, Matt Groening satirizes the control that corporate marketing machines like Facebook and Twitter have over us. He shows how they can turn us into mindless consumers through a constant barrage of targeted advertising. As Hermes remarks in one scene after an advertisement for a pizza shows up on his computer: “This thing always knows what I want!” This kind of marketing interaction is actually occurring constantly even as I sit here to type this post. What hasn’t happened yet is the mind control that Futurama jokingly suggests. But is it a joke? Could that actually happen? While the answer might seem to be an obvious “no,” the possibility of this might be more realistic than one would think.

As technology continues to advance, we begin to incorporate it more into our bodies. Artificial hearts and cochlear implants are just a few examples of the invasive application of technology. Therefore, it is not a huge leap to say that in the future it is possible that our communication devices might be integrated with our bodies and possibly our minds. This is where things begin to get scary. Why exactly? Well I’ll tell you. If every person’s body is connected to an interconnected network, the the same technology that helps them can also be used to break them down. If you question the power of a malevolent entity to spread to the users of a network, just consider the “Mikeyy” worm that invaded Twitter in 2009. Users would be prompted to click on a harmless looking advertisement and as soon as they did their twitter account began immediately sending out thousands of links unwillingly to every follower that the individual had. If the follower clicked on the link then the link would again be sent to their followers and so on. One could also catch the worm by simply viewing the profile of an infected member.

As Mikko Hypphen of the F-Secure cybersecurity firm commented “It would have been a simple trick for malware authors to modify the worm to infect a user’s computer, where more serious offenses like identity theft could have occurred.” Now imagine that instead of just your external twitter account being linked to the network, technology that regulated your bodily functions was connected to the same network. It could be a disaster. Cyberspace has taken years of work and billions of dollars to construct. But in nature, it is often easier to tear something down than it is to build it. It seems that it might be inevitable that the body of the internet could be invaded by a super-virus that tears it down. Let’s just hope that we’re not a part of it when that day comes.

Jeopardy! Hosts Epic Battle of Man Versus Machine

February 17, 2011 3 comments

This week marked a historical landmark for game show fans and technology enthusiasts alike.  Over a two-game competition, Jeopardy’s two highest-winning contestants of all time competed against an IBM-designed supercomputer, Watson, in a new test of man against machine.   Relying on the equivalent of 2,800 powerful computers connected in a high speed network, with a memory capacity of over 15 trillion bites, Watson functioned independently to communicate with Alex Trebek and respond to clues – with neither internet connection nor human assistance to aid him.

Representing the human race were Ken Jennings, who in 2004 earned over $2.5 million over a 74-day winning streak, and Brad Rutter, who accumulated over $3.2 million in regular season-play and other Jeopardy tournaments since his debut in 2000.

Watson (middle) displays its superior handwriting

This situation raises some interesting questions about the competitive relationship between man and technology.  To what extent can a man-made machine surpass the potential of man himself?  Can a machine comprehend complex information provided directly from human interaction?  How autonomous are modern super computers?  Do machines appreciate Alex Trebek’s dry humor?

Watson’s performance alone answered many of these questions.  Between the two games, Watson’s winnings accumulated to $77,147, compared to Jennings’ measly $24,000 and Rutter’s embarrassing $21,600.

Watson, deep in thought and looking confident

While the large supercomputers that power Watson had to be kept in a room backstage, the avatar that stood behind the podium between Jennings and Rutter had a unique presence on the show, seeming at times to be wiser than a mere collection of wires and hardware.  Aside from having a human name, Watson’s “face” would change colors and display threads of light representing thoughtwaves based on its progress and confidence as it pondered its answers.  Additionally, its monotonous electronic voice seemed to possess an unwavering air of superiority.

When asked about his experience competing against Watson, Ken Jennings stated, “I had a great time and would do it again in a heartbeat.  It’s not about the results; this is about being part of the future.”  Spoken like a true second-place competitor, Jennings did not seem overly concerned about seeing a machine beat him at his greatest skill in life, playing Jeopardy.

Should we really be as excited as Jennings about this future?  Watson already displayed his dominance over Jeopardy – how long will it be until future generations of super computers exceed human ability at other tasks?  If Watson can play Jeopardy, what other jobs could it be programmed to do?  Surely it could handle the analytical demands of many popular American jobs, and don’t forget – Watson doesn’t show up late for work, sleep on the job, take sick-days, or demand comfortable work conditions or a fair salary.

Perhaps Watson’s success marks a step forward  in time toward a world in which man himself will fall obsolete to the power of his constantly evolving technology.  But even though Watson was able to answer questions more accurately and quickly than its human competitors, it does not necessarily represent a threat to mankind’s mental capacity and dominance.  To prove this, I have one question for Watson:

How did it feel to compete on Jeopardy?

Not so smart anymore, Watson.  Machine may have won this round, but the future of man’s relationship with technology is still in our hands.

For more information on the technology behind Watson, and to watch Watson compete on Jeopardy, watch this recording of the episode on YouTube: