I.B.M.’s Watson – Computers Close In on the ‘Paris Hilton’ Problem – NYTimes.com

I.B.M.’s Watson – Computers Close In on the ‘Paris Hilton’ Problem – NYTimes.com.

It’s an interesting point, and IBM has earned the feather in its cap. But it’s really silly to think that the contest means anything beyond the immediacy of the sophistication of the hardware demonstrated.

And if there is anything to take from this it’s probably simply that our present education system is lousy, or that factoids do not make the human, or that the biggest dirty secret about what makes humans human is that they are cheap. Historically, humans have been by and large cheaper than beasts of burden (when those were available) and beasts of war. Humans can mostly follow instructions better than, say, a cat, but probably not as well as a smart border collie (and they are all smart). Ask a shepherd which he’d rather have: a stupid human or smart dog.

What has made humans distinct is the effort put into that question by religious organisations that have sought to distinguish humans from everything else; and not all religions, of course, have done this. Indeed, numerically speaking, most have not. So we can look instead to the very simplest fact of human distinction, and it’s simply the conscious boasting of it (“I am, I think, I am, I think!”), coupled with humans’ amazing ability to hang around, decade after decade, while even the smartest dog will never see its third decade.