As a parent, some of your proudest moments occur when your children begin to talk. After several months of ear-shredding cries and indistinguishable babble, they finally begin to communicate in a language you can understand. A first word is an indescribable joy, whether it's "mama," "dada" or "roku." The future now seems to be an amazing place where you and your child will strive towards excellence together
, culminating in a comfortable retirement in which you live off their immense earnings as a person of brilliance.
Shortly thereafter, you begin to rue the day they ever learned the (now) cursed language of their ancestors.
It starts with the incessant barrage of questions in a meandering quest for knowledge, followed by the barrage of questions (mainly, "Why?") that greet every suggestion, criticism or direct order. Shortly thereafter, it's followed by questions directed at your parenting skills, cultural tastes, archaic slang use, rhetorical devices and sense of direction. At the point where you're wishing their language development had followed Charlie Gordon's "learning curve,"
you're asked to make a surprise appearance at the school administrator's office to explain a sudden outburst of particularly inventive cursing from your former "pride and joy."
So it is also with artificial life.
Watson, IBM's Jeopardy-contestant supercomputer, showed the world that, with the right programming, any puny human could be bested in a mildly snooty game show that handed out answers and asked for questions. However, the quest for true artificial intelligence is still ongoing.
So, in the interest of science, the whole of human knowledge (Internet Edition™) was dropped into Watson's brain
and then... the problems began.
Two years ago, Brown attempted to teach Watson the Urban Dictionary. The popular website contains definitions for terms ranging from Internet abbreviations like OMG, short for "Oh, my God," to slang such as "hot mess."
But Watson couldn't distinguish between polite language and profanity -- which the Urban Dictionary is full of. Watson picked up some bad habits from reading Wikipedia as well. In tests it even used the word "bullshit" in an answer to a researcher's query.
Well, it appears that every teacher's distrust of the internet in general is well-earned. It's nothing but quasi-facts dressed up in four-letter words, like a World Book Encyclopedia annotated by 4chan's /b/ board. (I'm not going to link to it. I won't have your misclicks weighing on my soul.) Still, it's disheartening to know that the use of the word "bullshit" (even correctly) is not considered a sign of intelligence, artificial or otherwise. Sure, the word itself may be inappropriate, but under certain circumstances, it is by far
the most appropriate answer.
Fortunately for Watson's team, they had the option to remove all this useful knowledge before it offended other researchers who weren't as used to being coldly called on their bullshit.
Ultimately, Brown's 35-person team developed a filter to keep Watson from swearing and scraped the Urban Dictionary from its memory. But the trial proves just how thorny it will be to get artificial intelligence to communicate naturally.
It also shows that artificial intelligence has one huge advantage over regular intelligence: the ability to permanently forget. We lowly humans are stuck with a brain that constantly reminds us (especially if we spend much time at places like the aforementioned /b/ board) that what is seen, cannot be unseen.
Watson, having been de-swearified and brainwashed, is now headed to a better place.
Brown is now training Watson as a diagnostic tool for hospitals.
There it will be able to use its acquired knowledge to battle health issues like cancer
and Dissociative Facebook Identity Disorder