Quite incredible and/or ridculous – as something of a follow-up to Deep Blue, IBM have been working on a computer that can play Jeopardy:

For the last three years, I.B.M. scientists have been developing what they expect will be the world’s most advanced “question answering” machine, able to understand a question posed in everyday human elocution — “natural language,” as computer scientists call it — and respond with a precise, factual answer…Nobody ever tackled “Jeopardy!” because experts assumed that even for the latest artificial intelligence, the game was simply too hard: the clues are too puzzling and allusive, and the breadth of trivia is too wide. With Watson, I.B.M. claims it has cracked the problem — and aims to prove as much on national TV.

It’s a really interesting article and is another (scary) indication of how fast technology is moving. When I was a kid if I wanted to find something out I sat down with our Encyclopedia Britannica collection (apparently purchased from a door-to-door salesman as my Dad was having a bath, renovation work my Dad was doing meant there wasn’t actually a wall in the bathroom at the time making doorstep conversations from the tub upstairs that bit easier). Now we have the internet, Google, Wikipedia, it’s all out there you just have to search for it. Soon we will have knowledge (but more importantly answer) engines that can understand us and give us the answer.

At first, a Watson system could cost several million dollars, because it needs to run on at least one $1 million I.B.M. server. But Kelly predicts that within 10 years an artificial brain like Watson could run on a much cheaper server, affordable by any small firm, and a few years after that, on a laptop.

Within my lifetime I will be able to stand in my house and ask Computer/Mother/Pierce Brosnan a question and it will give me an answer. Or become self-aware and nuke the world. I’d still probably rather have a lightsaber.

(via Kottke)