early next year, IBM’s supercomputer “watson” will take on the two best jeopardy players in the show’s history, ken jennings and brad rutter (the guy who beat jennings in the jeopardy tournament of champs). we know computers can win or draw against master players in competitions requiring brute force calculations when the game complexity is low enough.
but playing in this format is something different. how well the comp does will depend greatly on the quality of it’s database obviously, but the structure of the clues requires more than simple brute force calculations. to find the correct replies, contestants have to parse the sometimes intentionally opaque grammar of the clue correctly, place it in the context of the category, understand various subtle references, puns, ironies, double entendres, and relationships (near/far, little/big).
imagine trying to come up with the algorithm that could provide the question to this recent clue in the category “hmm… pronoun trouble”:
A sovereign may use the “royal” this pronoun in formal speech; are you not amused?
to arrive at that answer requires some thought. the comp would have to know what pronouns are, what a sovereign/royal is in this context, know there is a difference between formal and informal speech, understand that “this pronoun” needs to be replaced with the correct pronoun, and recognize that the last 4 words are a reference to something beyond the question it poses on its face. and that’s just what’s needed to parse the clue.
to reply correctly, the comp has to understand how to use different pronouns (different from just knowing what they are), know that sovereigns can use the majestic plural in formal speech, and map the ending question to the famous quote by queen victoria, “we are not amused.” if there’s an algorithm guy that can code that, i’d like to shake his hand and buy stock in the company he’s working for.
or consider this example underscoring how difficult it can be to understand the meaning of a spoken sentence:
[T]he sentence “I never said she stole my money” can have seven different meanings depending on which word is stressed.
“We love those sentences,” Dr. Nyberg said. “Those are the ones we talk about when we’re sitting around having beers after work.”
of course, most clues are probably easier than these examples to parse and reply to. still it’ll be interesting to see which questions it gets, which it misses, and what it says when it misses.