C is for cookie. And computer!

IBM Watson
IBM's Watson supercomputer. Wow

In the epic battle between man and machine, machine kicked man's arse. We're talking, of course, about Watson, IBM's gameshow-playing supercomputer.

Competing with humans at Jeopardy! is no mean feat: it requires real language skills and a knowledge of wordplay, puns and riddles - exactly the kinds of things computers aren't usually very good at.

Don't worry, though: Watson's prowess hardly heralds a new era of robot overlords. What it might mean, though, is better medicine:

IBM has announced a partnership with voice recognition experts Nuance to create doctors' assistants that use Watson technology to analyse enormous amounts of medical data. Rather than kill us all, it seems, Watson would rather make us feel better.

A safe bet?

Fancy betting on this year's Academy Awards results? Google can help. According to the Official Google Blog, people's searches have shown "consistent search patterns among best picture winners for the last three years".

Google past winners

CRYSTAL BALLS: Can Google predict the future? Nope, but it's pretty good at predicting the Best Picture Oscar

Each year Google saw a surge of search interest in the film that turned out to be the winner: No Country For Old Men in 2008, Slumdog Millionaire in 2009 and The Hurt Locker in 2010. This year's favourite? The Social Network, with Black Swan and The King's Speech in its wake. Don't tell the bookies!

RTFM, Robot

This week's episode of "the robots are coming and they're going to kill us all" comes courtesy of the University of Southampton, where Professor Sandor Veres and his team have created robots that can read manuals.


MANUAL LABOUR:Robots can read instruction manuals to learn new things. And these ones can fly! [Image credit: Max Kiesler on Flickr]

"I believe humans can be substituted in some easy tasks," he told the Southern Daily Echo, suggesting that smart robots could have solved last year's terrible oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. His robots use artificial intelligence to read instruction manuals to learn new skills:

"They can go on the web and read special documents, from which they learn... I'm not claiming we've got a thinking machine, but we're going in the right direction".

It's the end of the Net as we know it

When our friends went to uni they seemed to spend most of their time either getting drunk or recovering from the resulting hangovers. It seems today's students are made of sterner stuff: they've created a "cyberweapon that could take down the internet". Which is pretty ambitious, you've got to admit.

According to New Scientist Max Schuchard and his team have found a way to meddle with something called the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), which routers use to tell each other of changes to communications paths. By interfering with these messages on a massive scale - the attack needs around 250,000 computers on a botnet - you could take down the entire internet.

The good news is that it's unlikely to be used. "Mapping the network to find a target link is a highly technical task," NS says. "And anyone with a large enough botnet is more likely to be renting it out for a profit."

C is for Cookie. That's good enough for me

Aliencurv's latest YouTube clip shows the process of making a faintly creepy robot from an old teddy bear, but for serious robot goodness check out the same creator's Cookie Monster robot, which connects via Bluetooth to a standard PC for remote control and which is smart enough to avoid bumping into things.

We have to agree with commenter duon44, who says: "make it really big, then put a flamethrower on it and let it create chaos in the city! :D MUHAHAHAAA" And on that note, let's play out with a song.

BLUE BOT C: is for cookie, that's good enough for me. Cookie cookie cookie starts with C!


Liked this? Then check out TechRadar's bumper selection of 10 tech PR stunts that spectacularly failed

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Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now and her next book, about pop music, is out in 2025. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band Unquiet Mind.