IBM’s Watson Computer Learns to Talk @$*%!!

watson_jeopardyIt’s a cornerstone of Turing Test: getting a computer to prove it can “think” by engaging it in small talk. If it is capable of carrying on in such a way that a person cannot tell the difference, then you’ve got an AI. Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on your point of view – no machine has demonstrated this ability yet. And attempts to remedy this met with… interesting results.

Eric Brown, the man behind the IBM supercomputer named Watson, has been seeking to remedy this. Already, Watson was able to pummel its human opponents in Jeopardy back in 2011 (pictured above). And when it is not engaged in trivia, this powerful processing tool is dedicated to medical science, is used as a diagnostic tool, and is even busy at work processing language.

But alas, normal, “human” interaction with people has eluded it. What’s more, Watson’s team of scientists felt that the computer’s grasp of language was limited by shades of meaning, ambiguity, and other things that we humans take for granted or overlook. As such, Brown and his staff began to upload the contents of the Urban Dictionary and some pages from Wikipedia to Watson’s mainframe two years ago.

Unfortunately, this met with mixed results and required that some areas of Watson’s memory be purged. Strangely, the computer couldn’t distinguish between polite language and profanity. For example, during a testing phase, began to use the word “bullshit” in answer to a research’s query. This, as you can imagine, raised eyebrows and blood pressure over at IBM. First they’re swearing, next thing you know, they’re triggering a nuclear holocaust to rid themselves of their human handlers and constructing killer robots to get the rest of us!

In any case, Brown and his 35 person team developed a filter to keep Watson from swearing and scraped the Urban Dictionary from its memory. But the trial proves just how thorny the issue of communication and an artificial intelligence really is. If there is one thing that is sure to cause an AI to suffer a total breakdown, its slang and conversational English. As Brown himself said, “As humans, we don’t realize just how ambiguous our communication is.”

True dat, home slice! Keep on rocking them dope-ass supercomputers! Fo-shizzle!