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Long Story Short



The day after my Ray Kurzweil interview, I learned that Watson, the IBM computer that won on Jeopardy, had suffered a case of information indigestion.

Fortune reported last week that the technological wonder was fed the entirety of the Urban Dictionary, that quirky online compendium of slang definitions that are, more often than not, absurdly tongue-in-cheek.

So assuming, for example, that the supercomputer searched its own name, as many of us tend to do, it would have discovered nearly two dozen separate "Watson" entries, ranging from a creepy chinstrap beard to someone who exaggerates his or her own war record — plus the obligatory sexual and scatological definitions.

Absent among those user-submitted entries was any reference to IBM's star computer. So rather than allow Watson to develop an identity crisis and a foul mouth, programmers purged all Urban Dictionary memories from its brain.

Of course, such incidents will no longer be a problem if Ray Kurzweil realizes his prediction that technology will soon replicate human thinking to the point where the two are indistinguishable. America's most famous modern-day inventor and futurist took a big step toward that goal last month, when Google hired him to teach its machines how to decipher the semantic meaning of anything they encounter.

In our cover story interview, the author of the best-selling The Singularity Is Near and inventor of groundbreaking synthesizers and reading machines talks about the path to post-humanism and the perils we'll likely encounter along the way.

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