metaphysical & metaphorical musings : art, architecture, and arithmetic

Sunday, February 20, 2011

No Shinola, Sherlock

Objects communicate with us in at least two ways: through the accident as a sign, at the site of the new ontology, the place where reality reveals something of itself; and in the commodity relationship, showing the consumer a sympathetic version of him/herself.  Our task is to learn how to understand these signs, translate for our technology, understand what it is ‘saying’.

IBM’s Watson, the electronic champion of Jeopardy, seems like a step in the other direction.

Two of Watson’s processes are significant here.  One is the search-retrieve function, a massive undertaking with Jeopardy.  This is a function we’re all familiar with.  Before it can do this, however, Watson has to parse, read and interpret the language of the question.  Wolfram|Alpha interprets and searches rather well, provided that the user is inputting simple, straightforward language.  Watson’s task is trickier.  Sometimes, Jeopardy’s language is relatively straightforward, but we’ve all seen the twisted puns and wordplay, the very essence of riddles.  How can a computer, with its brutal simplicity, understand poetic language? 

That’s the challenge for Watson.  And apparently, he did pretty well.  KurzweilAI suggests that the machine had a significantly faster reaction time than the human players—but then, we already knew that computers are quicker than we are, but supposedly at the price of versatility.  Watson shows that this isn’t an insurmountable divide.

Our technologies are capable of reading us faster than we can read them.  Do machines that communicate more efficiently with us, on our terms, mean less incentive to understand how the object communicates in its own way?

What does this mean for the personal computer—hell, all personal electronics—in a commodity relationship through which the object secures our help to further its own entelechy?

Is technology becoming more organic, while we become more mechanical?

What could this mean for a Max & Euclid relationship?

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