This week a machine captured our attention as it battled for supremacy against two human competitors. Watson, the IBM computer, prevailed over Jeopardy's finest, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Jennings was quick to explain that "there's no shame in losing to silicon," he wrote on Slate. Watson and its similar prototypes will move on from here to big projects like improving health care delivery and smartphone technology. Scientists and technicians clearly proved something this week about ingenuity, progress, and communication. What's the big takeaway from this three-day experiment?
See the differences between man and machine: It was Watson's "human attributes that make him so compelling," says Joanna Weiss in The Boston Globe. But ultimately it behaved how you'd expect: heartlessly. The experiment showed "just how hard it would be to mimic the complexity of people," despite how actively we try to "turn our computers into friends." As the other contestants surrounded the machine at game's end to add some levity, "Watson was unfazed. He didn't get the joke, even though he took it like a man."
This was so utterly predictable: "Any seasoned horse handicapper easily could have predicted the outcome of the race," says a St. Petersburg Times editorial. Worries about a "takeover of human society are premature." For the humans, "there is no shame in coming up short against one of the world's foremost creators of computer technology," IBM. It didn't prove itself smarter than man, either,"just quicker. "The big winner in this contest was science."
We can't handle losing: So many people are "downplaying the win," says "R.M." in The Economist, arguing that it's no big deal and that man is still superior. It's "as if the man-made machine was a threat to our own self-worth." This rejection of Watson's accomplishment conveys"antipathy directed at scientists, academics, and experts," and "part of this modern anti-intellectualism stems from an unwillingness to accept our own inferiority." What this really shows is "our refusal to admit that America may not be uniquely great."
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