Ken Jennings invokes a classic internet meme as he admits defeat

If Ken Jennings, the 74-time Jeopardy! champion, prodigy, and superstar, has a puny human brain, then what size is mine? Everyone suspects that in his free time, he downloads the latest revisions of Wikipedia, but I can barely remember enough of the PS3 lecture to do my p-set without looking back at the lecture slides. Come on Ken, chin up, you’re making me sad now.

Charismatic as he is, sometimes it’s hard to tell whether Jennings is serious or not. At the same time that he, tongue-in-cheek, welcomes his new computer overlords, he consoles himself with a raw materials cost comparison:

But there’s no shame in losing to silicon, I thought to myself […] After all, I don’t have 2,880 processor cores and 15 terabytes of reference works at my disposal […] My puny human brain, just a few bucks worth of water, salts, and proteins, hung in there just fine against a jillion-dollar supercomputer.

If a million neurons comprised one processor core, Jennings would have on the order of 10,000 to 100,000. It’s not time yet to admit defeat, Ken. Your “puny human brain” can also hear, see, smell, dress himself in the morning, and tie your shoes (mine can do that too). And this is not me with an inferiority complex trying too hard. It’s true: computers are better at computing. Humans are better at being human.

IBM, and now Jennings, wants to add, “they can’t—at least not for the moment.” The vision that IBM tries to show us with Watson is that we can create robots that match and surpass human intellectual ability. Jennings forebodes: “‘Quiz show contestant’ may be the first job made redundant by Watson, but I’m sure it won’t be the last.” But not only is a truly super-humanoid robot centuries away, who knows, it may be impossible. The progress function doesn’t have to be linear; it can be sinusoid, asymptotic, or any number of shapes and sizes. Ironically, Jennings has worked as a software engineer, so he should know quite well what exactly computer overlords are capable of. Maybe we’d miss the boat if we didn’t start bowing down now. But I doubt it.

Read Jennings’s insightful and enjoyable article here:




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