Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dream Jobs

Last week over at Genreality, Rosemary Clement-Moore had a fun post about Dream Jobs that got me thinking about my various dreams growing up.

One of them was to work on natural language processing, the goal of which is to build an artificial intelligence that can communicate like a human. So far talking robots are still science fiction, but researchers keep coming closer all the time.

I've been thinking about this dream job recently after watching Watson on Jeopardy. For those who missed it, Watson was a computer designed by IBM that went up against the two best-performing people ever to compete on Jeopardy. Going into the first night of the show nobody knew what to expect. But over the course of the three days of competition, Watson dominated the board.

Watching the performance was pretty amazing. I was in awe that anyone could have made such an advanced artificial intelligence. Granted, when Watson was wrong, he was wrong in some pretty wacky ways. And Watson's “intelligence” was based on probability, not actual knowledge. But wow did I ever wish I could have been part of the team that designed Watson.

At one time that really was my goal in life. One of my high school science fair projects explored AI. In college I took math, linguistics, computer science, and even psychology. Thinking about language and the way our brains work is so thrilling. We're a pretty amazing species, you know?

I never did end up on the Natural Language Processing path, and I'm glad now that life turned out a little differently than planned. Still, remembering that dream got me thinking about the things that used to captivate my attention.

Anyway, so far my interest in linguistics hasn't quite made its way into a book, but I know it could one day. In fact... uh oh, here I go about to get all wrapped up in a new story idea! And I've already got plenty of those for the next few years. But more on those another day.

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