I found myself chatting to a few folk about the IBM Watson artificial intelligence thing at a lovely event organised by Slalom Consulting. Being in that mild state of belligerence that only a couple of glasses of a nice red can give, I was a bit dismissive of the undoubted achievement that the Watson team had had in winning the US TV Quiz-show Jeopardy.
My Merlot-induced state proposed that whilst it was clever, would the machine stand a chance against a human being who was given access to Google? My point was that using technology to augment our human abilities is surely far better a task for technology than trying to replace us. But was Jeopardy really that much of a test anyway; it’s a quiz show with the sort of logical structure of a quiz that kind of lends itself to Artificial Intelligence. All a bit Spocky. And if we only allow ourselves to compete against computers in tests of intelligence in which computers are naturally appropriate then, well, we’ll always lose. It’s like defining intelligence as the ability to calculate square roots.
So (I was on a roll now) how about getting an AI thing to win Britain’s Got Talent (other national varieties are available)? Then I’d be impressed – a machine that could win over both the Minions of Cowell and the general UK population.
“That’s impossible” came the reply, the implicit thing being that it was just too, well, human a thing to allow a computer to compete.
But think about it: a dog has won Britain’s Got Talent. Twice. (Actually, kind of three times, but that’s another story). We’re quite happy as a nation to endow the concept of talent anthropomorphically.
People form huge emotional bonds with technology – witness the queues of the devoted in every Apple store.
And, most importantly, it’s quite clear that objective talent (or lack thereof) is not impediment to people and animals competing (if not winning) the show.
So there’s my 21st Century Turing-esque test. I reckon we’ll have created artificial intelligence when a robot wins Britain’s Got Talent. Without a human handler. Or a canine sidekick.
Game on, people…