AUS DEM SPIEGEL
Ausgabe 8/2011

Technology Pioneer David Gelernter 'Love Is Beyond Watson'

What does Watson's Jeopardy victory tell us? Not much, says David Gelernter, the computer science pioneer and Yale professor. SPIEGEL spoke with Gelernter about the prospects of achieveing artifically-created consciousness and the belief that eternal life can be secured on a hard drive.

AFP/ IBM

SPIEGEL: Dr. Gelernter, the American journalist Ambrose Bierce described the word we are looking for as "a temporary insanity curable by marriage." Do you know what we mean?

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Gelernter: I don't.

SPIEGEL: It's love. It's a question from the TV show Jeopardy, and the IBM supercomputer Watson had no problem finding the solution. So does that mean Watson knows what love is?

Gelernter: He doesn't have the vaguest idea. The field of artificial intelligence has not even started to address how emotions are represented cognitively, what makes a belief and so forth. The problem is, I don't think only with my mind. I think with my body and my mind together. There's no such thing as love without bodily input, output, reaction and response. So love is beyond Watson.

SPIEGEL: Why, then, is Watson still doing well at Jeopardy?

Gelernter: Because the body is not involved in playing Jeopardy. You don't have to mean or to believe a single thing you say. The game is superficial enough to be winnable by an entity with no emotions, no sensations, and no self.

SPIEGEL: Still, Watson's opponents, Jeopardy all-time champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, said in interviews that they had the feeling they were playing against a human. How come we can even consider Watson being on a par with us?

Gelernter: I even consider my macaw Ike to be on a par with me (laughs and points to his macaw). But seriously, I'd rather chat with Watson than with some of the people in my department at Yale. Any baby with a teddy bear immediately anthropomorphizes the teddy bear. We want to see images of ourselves, mirrors of ourselves. Anthropomorphizing is a powerful human urge. So I have no problems calling Watson a "he." That's a normal human response.

SPIEGEL: Watson defeated Jennings and Rutter in the competition recently with staggering ease. If not human-like, can Watson at least tell us something about the human mind?

Gelernter: Watson was not built to study the human mind. And the IBM people don't claim that they've solved any cognitive problems. Watson was built to win Jeopardy. That's it. For that purpose, it is drawing heavy on the parallel programming strategy. This strategy explicitly says: forget about the brain. The question is, can we burn raw computing power in such a way that we can create something that's able to compete with a human? The result is an extraordinary piece of technology that -- unlike IBM's chess computer Deep Blue -- has major implications for applied artificial intelligence.

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