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When it's man vs. the computer, the computer usually wins

Friday, February 25, 2011

The computer first beat man back in 1997 when an IBM computer beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov and it has been defeating various chess champions ever since.

Last week, it stepped up its game. A new cutting edge IBM computer took on two Jeopardy champions and beat them soundly, after having been programmed with many libraries of books and Internet posts.

The Jeopardy victory was far more significant than the chess victories because the computer had to respond to funky and sometimes vague answers by providing the right question, whereas with chess, it only had to perform a winning strategy. This has many people wondering if computers will one day rule the world.

The obvious answer is of course they will. Progress, good or bad, does not stop. Each generation builds on the knowledge discovered by past generations to discover new technological inventions and discoveries and that has been going on forever. And it's an exponential growth. We've advanced more technologically in the past century than we did in all the centuries that came before it combined. Discovery, innovation, and invention is now happening at such a rapid pace that there's nothing really "state of the art" anymore because as soon as something hits the shelves of stores, something better and more advanced is already being created.

Twenty years ago, not many people had personal computers and those that did were almost all on dial-up. Today most people have computers and few are on dial-up because of digital technology. Machines and computers impact on our lives like never before and that's only going to increase in the future. There are now robots that will do our household chores and perhaps, even in my lifetime, robots will be developed to the point that we can have relationships with them. They will be built according to our specifications; skin color, hair color, physique, attitude, emotions, practically everything a human being has except for a heart and a soul. At first, they will only be available to the rich because like every other new product, they will be expensive. But as the bugs get worked out and more people want one, the price will go down and most people will be able to have one if that's what they want. That's what is predicted and there's no reason to think it won't happen.

So what does that mean to human relationships? One thing it means for certain is that there will be fewer of them. If you can have a computer programmed to be exactly the way you want it to be, have exactly the kinds of emotions and reactions you want it to have and will respond to you in exactly the ways you wish, many will think that is preferable to a human relationship that is unpredictable, fraught with troubles, marred with disagreements, far too often boring, predictable and routine, and leaves many lives kicked to the curb, devastated and destroyed.

I'm sure there's a portion of the population that finds having a relationship with a machine instead of a person as doomsday, end-of-the-world scary but I suspect we'll adjust to that the same way we adjust to all progress whether it's good or bad. Because after all, it's up to us to make good judgments and decisions instead of bad ones. Lately, Americans have been trailing a good part of the rest of the world in making good decisions, but that's a reversible trend if we choose it to be.

We have brains for a reason. We're supposed to think with them although far too many of us choose not to use them for that purpose very often. And therein lies the rub. We can choose to be so non-thinking that machines and computers could rule us in the future or we can choose to control them and make our lives more efficient, effective, happy, and prosperous as we do.

So the only bogeyman in this futuristic scenario is us. We will get what we desire the most and whether it's bad or good will be the result of decisions we make, not the computer.

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Mike Hendricks
Mike at Night