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Old November 19 2013, 03:10 PM   #36
Robert Maxwell
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Re: Is Watson the most advanced super computer in existence?

DarthTom, you don't need to mini-mod here.

iguana is probably a bit put off by, to put it nicely, how not very knowledgeable you are about computers and computing technology. You seem easily impressed. Not that it's not impressive, but there seems to be a common tendency to view technology you don't understand as almost magical in nature. You seem very impressed, for instance, by Watson, going so far as to (initially) think it's the most advanced computer in existence. I assume you came to this conclusion due to its ability to beat other Jeopardy contestants, but those who likened it to Deep Blue have it right. Like Deep Blue, there is nothing magical about Watson, it is just a very powerful, highly specialized computer designed to solve one particular task very efficiently. Its existence is more evolutionary than revolutionary. It's not some kind of turning point in AI. It's a notable achievement, but I'm just saying not to make more of it than it is.

We could send automated probes to other solar systems if we wanted to and were willing to spend the money. The reason we don't is that it would take so long and the benefits, if any, would come several generations down the line. That makes it politically uninteresting, since no one in office (or even alive) today would be able to take credit for it. There's also no good economic incentive.

At this point, as our telescopes get better and better, we'll learn a lot more about extrasolar planets that way, and if we find a really, really promising one, maybe we'll send some probes, but I don't think you appreciate just how long-term a project that is. To put it in perspective, the fastest ships we've built to date--Helios-A and Helios-B--have had a maximum velocity of a bit over 150,000 miles per hour. Light travels at almost 670 million miles per hour. That means the fastest ship we've ever made has gone 0.02% the speed of light. It would take almost 43 years for such a ship to travel one light year. That's over 180 years just to the nearest star.

To see results in any reasonable amount of time, you'd need ships at least 10 times faster, and you'd need to be sure they could survive such high velocities. The computer systems are really the least of our worries with something like that. Maintaining power and velocity through the interstellar medium would be of much greater concern.

Basically: computing power is not what is holding us back from exploring space, and it never really has been. Systems like Watson and Siri are impressive but represent iterative improvements and integration of technologies and concepts that have been around for decades. There is no magic here, just a bunch of real-world reasons why we have achieved some things and not others.
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