Tech firms race to smarten up thinking machines
By MATT O’BRIEN
AP Technology Writer
Seven years ago, a computer beat two human quizmasters on a “Jeopardy” challenge. Ever since, the tech industry has been training its machines even harder to make them better at amassing knowledge and answering questions.
And it’s worked, at least up to a point. Just don’t expect artificial intelligence to spit out a literary analysis of Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” any time soon.
Research teams at Microsoft and Chinese tech company Alibaba reached what they described as a milestone earlier this month when their AI systems outperformed the estimated human score on a reading comprehension test. It was the latest demonstration of rapid advances that have improved search engines and voice assistants and that are finding broader applications in health care and other fields.
The answers they got wrong – and the test itself – also highlight the limitations of computer intelligence and the difficulty of comparing it directly to human intelligence.
“We are still a long way from computers being able to read and comprehend general text in the same way that humans can,” said Kevin Scott, Microsoft’s chief technology officer, in a LinkedIn post that also commended the achievement by the company’s Beijing-based researchers.
The test developed at Stanford University demonstrated that, in at least some circumstances, computers can beat humans at quickly “reading” hundreds of Wikipedia entries and coming up with accurate answers to questions about Genghis Khan’s reign or the Apollo space program.