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Algorithms Get a Human Hand in Steering Web

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A human mediating search results.

On the job at FindTheBest, a fast-growing start-up in Santa Barbara, Calif. The company calls itself a "comparison engine" for finding and comparing more than 100 topics and products.

Credit: J. Emilio Flores/The New York Times

As the work computers do becomes increasingly complex, humans often are called upon to provide the programs with context and nuance. "For all their brilliance, computers can be thick as a brick," says Carnegie Mellon University professor Tom M. Mitchell.

Humans can interpret and tweak information so that both computers and other humans can understand it.

At Google, the human contribution to search results is increasing. Google presents summaries of information that is relevant to search queries based on databases of knowledge such as Wikipedia, the C.I.A. World Factbook, and Freebase, all of which are edited by humans. Humans also help Google develop alterations to its search algorithm. "Our engineers evolve the algorithm, and humans help us see if a suggested change is really an improvement," says Google's Scott Huffman.

IBM's Watson supercomputer is also relying on humans for help. To prepare for its role in assisting doctors, Watson is being fed medical texts, scientific papers, and digital patient records. Watson asks a team of clinicians questions and they provide answers and correct the computer's mistakes. "We’re using medical experts to help Watson learn, make it smarter going forward," says IBM's Eric Brown.

From The New York Times
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Abstracts Copyright © 2013 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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