In 1997, International Grandmaster chess player Garry Kasparov faced off against Deep Blue -- an IBM supercomputer designed to play chess. It was the second time they had met; Kasparov had triumphed in the previous match. Though he was universally considered a genius at chess, Kasparov faced a distinct disadvantage: Even simple computers can process and perform calculations far faster than humans. Today's cutting-edge microprocessors can easily perform millions of calculations every second. In 1997, Deep Blue was able to analyze between 100 billion and 200 billion potential chess moves during a standard three-minute chess turn [source: IBM]. Despite Kasparov's incredible skill, the computer won the 1997 match.
Then, in 2011, IBM and computer technology won again. This time, IBM's Watson went up against two top champs of the popular television game show "Jeopardy," and beat them handily. In fact, over the three-day challenge, the computer won more than $77,000 compared with Ken Jennings' and Brad Rutter's winnings that measured below $25,000 each [source: Ante]. To win, Watson had to answer questions by mining a database that included more than 200 million pages of content -- in under three seconds.
Computers might be able to beat human brains every time when it comes to mathematical calculations, quantitative analysis and game show questions, but that doesn't mean they're smarter overall. Humans are better at analyzing new situations by recalling past experiences and making inferences about a new challenge. Humans can experiment until they find a solution -- computers need to be told what to do. Humans are capable of qualitative analysis and emotional intelligence. Humans also are better at recognizing and adapting to complicated patterns. In short, it breaks down like this: Given a very narrow field of specifically quantified tasks, computers perform better, but in any broad context, humans are more intelligent than computers.
While Kasparov's defeat sent tremors through the chess world, it didn't herald an era of computer dominance. Intelligence is more than picking the best option from a list of possibilities. Humans are able to adapt. Deep Blue was a slave to its programming -- it couldn't operate outside its relatively narrow parameters. Watson was programmed to analyze more nuances in "Jeopardy" answers, but still could draw only from its database. Still, IBM believes that in this century, there are business applications for Watson and the sort of analytics technology the computer represents [source: IBM].
Finally, to answer the question of which is smarter, a computer or a human, perhaps it's helpful to simply remember this: Humans program computers, not the other way around.
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