Watson vs. Jennings

The best game show contestant on the best game show ever (Ken Jennings on Jeopardy) will soon compete against IBM’s Watson-class computer. Watson is favored to win. Today’s Watson technology requires a large room full of hardware. In 15 years, this same computing power will sit on a desktop. As we approach Turing-class computing (2050?), the power of today’s Watson computer will seem as quaint as the Sperry-Univac is today.

I can envision a day when we no longer define religion in terms of having the “right knowledge.” I’m thinking David Hayward could do a cartoon showing three of the world’s leading religious thinkers as Jeopardy panelists – a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist – while Watson provides far deeper and more nuanced answers – even what we would call wisdom.

And why not? With the entire written history of world religions (and every other branch of knowledge) in its memory (think Internet 2050), and thousands of increasingly nuanced processing algorithms at its disposal, it’s only a matter of time (perhaps 2 or 3 generations) before “epistebots” and “theobots” surpass the best human experts in their ability to parse and disseminate specific knowledge and even wisdom. Consider that this “entire body of human knowledge and wisdom” will one day be on every global desktop, in every language, in every home and mobile device, instantly accessible in deeply interactive and immersive ways we cannot imagine today.

This is good news for religion, and humanity in general. As we are released from the need to define ourselves by tribal knowledge, we begin to define ourselves more relationally, more collectively, more empathically, more humanly. Even the perception of “enemy” must change as we begin to see ourselves as part of a larger global family. As we relax our desire and need for intellectual power, we can focus more on what makes us uniquely human:  our childlike awe and wonder at the universe and our ability to feel and act with greater compassion, empathy, and love towards other people, and all creation.

“You have to understand all the nuances, all the regionalisms, slang and shorthand to play the game, to get the clues.” – Harry Friedman, Executive Producer, Jeopardy!


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