Wiz Quiz 9: Arthur C Clarke’s HAL, are you here yet?

Joy of Tech tribute to Arthur C Clarke, 19 March 2008

This week marks the third death anniversary of Sir Arthur C Clarke, author and futurist.

Among the numerous tributes that poured out all over the world following his departure, I found one especially poignant. It was the ‘Joy of Tech’ cartoon above, showing the sentient computer HAL 9000 (from 2001: A Space Odyssey) shedding a single tear in his memory…

In fact, researchers in artificial intelligence (AI) are still trying to create a real-life HAL, which remains the ‘Holy Grail’ in their line of work: a machine-based intelligence that mimics the human mind in all its nuances, and not just in raw processing power.

This is proving much harder than creating chess-playing or quiz-winning computers: human beings are capable of a wide range of emotions some of which – such as intuition and sense of humour – are still not within the capabilities of advanced AI systems.

In this week’s Wiz Quiz, I pay tribute to both HAL and his creator with a few questions on the march of supercomputers. We ask the long-running question: Can computers outsmart us?

Indeed, that prospect is becoming more real every passing year. An IBM supercomputer named Deep Blue created history in May 1997 when it won a six-game match by two wins to one with three draws against the then world chess champion. A few weeks ago, another human bastion fell — and this one concerns me more as a quiz enthusiast (I never learnt the rules of chess, and don’t understand what all that fuss is about.)

On 17 February 2011, a supercomputer owned by the IBM Corporation beat two veteran quizzers to win a high profile game in the long-running US quiz show called Jeopardy. The supercomputer won with US$77,147, while its nearest rival Ken Jennings, a 74-time winner of the popular trivia quiz, came in second with US$24,000. Brad Rutter, who has in previous appearances won a total of US$3.3 million, was third with US$21,600. IBM plans to donate the computer’s winnings to charity.

What was the name of this quiz-winning supercomputer?

In HAL 9000’s name, what did the letters HAL stand for?

Which famous rocket scientist once said: “Man is the best computer we can put aboard a spacecraft…and the only one that can be mass produced with unskilled labour”?

These are among the 15 questions in this week’s Wiz Quiz. Test your brains against ours (supercomputers may not participate!).

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