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Skynet and John Henry’s Hammer


And so it begins.

I love Jeopardy!.  Love it.  Used to watch it as a little kid and unconsciously memorize any factoids I missed  (Nope, don’t cry for me, Argentina; I 12-stepped it out of Zeroville in my 20s.  Still, NEVER play Trivial Pursuit with me for money).  So naturally it piqued my interest when IBM put a ubersupercomputer up against Jeopardy! phenom Ken Jennings.  Jennings won seventy-four straight games a few years back, most of them by an embarrassingly huge margin.  The link below is his take on taking on “Watson.”

It so happens that the very first song to play on my iPod this morning was Johnny Cash’s The Legend of John Henry’s Hammer, recorded live at Folsom Prison.  Everybody should be familiar with the story (and song*), but if you’re not, the famous railroad worker is challenged to a contest against a steam drill.  John Henry ultimately wins, but dies from his efforts.

The ending of this story isn’t as dire.  But it is more important.  Imagine the implications to medicine alone.  To law and criminal justice.  To any knowledge worker in just about any industry.

Computers have always been smart.  That’s been obvious.  But until now, they’ve never been clever.


Slate – Ken Jennings:  My Puny Human Brain

*If you’re not, please fix that.

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