Did anyone feel a chill run down their spine last week when the IBM computer Watson obliterated Jeopardy champs Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in a stunt that has profound ramifications for the human race?
No, not some kind of SkyNet rise of the machines fantasy with Terminators running amok. The potential damage of Watson and his ilk is to eliminate millions of jobs in the name of progress and productivity.
Some background: several years ago, IBM set out to create a computer that could process all of the foibles of human speech: our slang, double-entendres, jokes, you name it, with the test being how well this critter would do on Jeopardy. They created a question answering machine composed of 400 mainframe computers containing 3,000 computer cores and 15 trillion bytes of memory.
Watson digested the equivalent of 10 million books prior to taking on Ken Jennings (a 74-game champion) and the undefeated champ Brad Rutter. By the second night of the match-up, the computer easily devastated his human competition, who seldom had a chance to even answer a question.
Watching the show, it was easy to see that Jennings and Rutter knew the answer to many of the questions, but never came close to beating Watson to the buzzer. This is because the computer was able to read the questions and provide a weighted answer within 10 milliseconds -- well before Jennings and Rutter could even read the first word or two of the questions.
Any guesses as to what IBM might do with this dandy new creation?
Well, for starters, how about replacing every medical transcriptionist in the world? Court recorders? Who needs them when the day comes that Watson is listening? And those tens of thousands of customer service reps now making a good living at call centers in far-off India? Gone.
Just about any job you can imagine that involves human speech has the potential to be replaced by the Watsons in our future, including of course, newspaper reporters, who rely on a simple who, what, where, when and why hierarchy to do their work. Watsons children will surely be able to make phone calls and ask questions -- I hope to have Watson write this column soon, since it really is kind of pain in the ass at times, dont you know.
Its another example of how weve grown far too smart for our own good, steadily destroying millions of jobs with digital applications, automation and industrial robots.
Check out this issues article on the collapse of Borders Books for a related story. The digital replacement of books offers great news for the CEO at the top of amazon.com, but millions of jobs lost in book stores, publishing, logging, paper recycling, trucking, printing, binding and many other industries. You may be next.
A Tunnel Too Far...
Its funny how the promise of money from a new hotel can so easily grease the wheels of progress while more worthy projects go begging.
For years cyclists and pedestrians have complained about the dangerous intersection at Division and the Grand Traverse Parkway in Traverse City. Angry confrontations between cyclists, roller bladers, pedestrians and motorists are common at this intersection, which handles between 26,000-33,000 vehicles per day.
You want to see moms with baby joggers scrambling for their lives? Red-faced cyclists and motorists screaming at each other over near-misses? Its a nightly occurrence at that corner every summer, but city officials claim to be unaware of the situation. Perhaps they should try strolling across that intersection at rush hour in July, when scores of people are headed out for their evening exercise.
This is such an ongoing, urgent hazard that I suggested in jest a year ago that the city allow members of TART to pitch in with shovels and dig a tunnel under the highway.
Lo and behold, TC now has a pedestrian tunnel in the works, but its a half mile to the east to accommodate a new hotel and will do little to safeguard lives where its really needed.
Last week, the city commission approved plans to spend $1 million on a tunnel in the Warehouse District to connect the new Hotel Indigo project to the Open Space across the Parkway (Mayor Chris Bzdok cast the sole vote against it). This, although there is a relatively safe crosswalk at Union Street about 100 yards away. The idea is to nurture more business around the new hotel.
Its good to see we have our priorities straight here in Traverse City.
And its nice to know that we have a new tunnel in the works for public safety, but its in the wrong place.