The “charming and terrifying” story of IBM’s breakthrough in artificial intelligence, from the Business Week technology writer and author of The Numerati (Publishers Weekly, starred review).
For centuries, people have dreamed of creating a machine that thinks like a human. Scientists have made progress: computers can now beat chess grandmasters and help prevent terrorist attacks. Yet we still await a machine that exhibits the rich complexity of human thought—one that doesn’t just crunch numbers, or take us to a relevant web page, but understands and communicates with us. With the creation of Watson, IBM’s Jeopardy!-playing computer, we are one step closer to that goal.
In Final Jeopardy, Stephen Baker traces the arc of Watson’s “life,” from its birth in the IBM labs to its big night on the podium. We meet Hollywood moguls and Jeopardy! masters, genius computer programmers and ambitious scientists, including Watson’s eccentric creator, David Ferrucci. We see how Watson’s breakthroughs and the future of artificial intelligence could transform medicine, law, marketing, and even science itself, as machines process huge amounts of data at lightning speed, answer our questions, and possibly come up with new hypotheses. As fast and fun as the game itself, Final Jeopardy shows how smart machines will fit into our world—and how they’ll disrupt it.
“The place to go if you’re really interested in this version of the quest for creating Artificial Intelligence.” —The Seattle Times
“Like Tracy Kidder’s Soul of a New Machine, Baker’s book finds us at the dawn of a singularity. It’s an excellent case study, and does good double duty as a Philip K. Dick scenario, too.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Like a cross between Born Yesterday and 2001: A Space Odyssey, Baker’s narrative is both . . . an entertaining romp through the field of artificial intelligence—and a sobering glimpse of things to come.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
Forget chess a television game show is the ultimate test of a thinking machine. Former Business Week technology writer Baker (The Numerati) delivers a sprightly account of IBM's quest to create a computer program, dubbed Watson, that can win at Jeopardy. Baker deftly explores the immense challenge that Jeopardy-style "question answering" poses to a computer, which must comprehend the nuances, obscurities, and puns of natural language and master everything from Sumerian history to Superbowl winners. Watson is both an information-processing juggernaut, searching millions of documents per second, and a child-like na f with odd speech impediments that thinks the Al in Alcoa stands for Al Capone (one embarrassing gaffe in a practice match prompted programmers to install a profanity filter). Like a cross between Born Yesterday and 2001: A Space Odyssey, Baker's narrative is both charming and terrifying; as Watson's intelligence relentlessly increases, we envision whole job sectors, from call center operators and marketing analysts to, well, quiz-show contestants, vanishing overnight. The result is an entertaining romp through the field of artificial intelligence and a sobering glimpse of things to come. The book's final chapter, covering the actual games, which will air in mid-February, was not seen by PW.