Light Friday: Valentine’s Day and the Robot Apocalypse

Next Monday many Americans will be showing their affection for the special people in their lives. Meanwhile, a more menacing development looms…

Last Sunday, we scarfed chips and chicken wings. On Monday, we trade them in for heart-shaped chocolates.

Valentine’s Day is traditionally an occasion when a person expresses his or her love to a significant other by offering gifts, cards, candy or flowers. Today, the spirit of affection has trickled down to include young children exchanging Valentine’s cards with their fellow classmates.

The average person will spend $116.21 on traditional Valentine’s Day merchandise this year, up 12.8 percent from last year, according to the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) 2011 Valentine’s Day Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey. Couples will spend an average of $68.98 on their significant other or spouse, up from $63.34 last year.

Total holiday spending is expected to reach $15.7 billion.

Based on 8,913 consumers surveyed in January, the NRF expects spending across the board will be up this year. Consumers will shell out $3.5 billion on jewelry this Valentine’s Day, while clothing ($1.6 billion) and dining out ($3.4 billion) will also be popular gift options. Celebrants will also spend $1.7 billion on flowers, $1.5 billion on candy and $1.1 billion on greeting cards. The Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately 160 million greeting cards will be purchased for Valentine’s Day this year, not including children’s packaged valentines.

“Having surpassed expectations during the holiday season, it seems consumers are not done spending on gifts, which bodes well for the economy,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement. “Jewelry, candy and apparel sales should provide a nice boost for retailers during the typically slower months of January and February.”

Some other Valentine’s Day-related facts and figures:

Number of jewelry stores in the United States in 2008, selling $2.4 billion in merchandise in February 2010 alone
Source: U.S. Census Bureau’s 2008 County Business Patterns and Monthly Retail Trade and Food Services

Number of jewelry-manufacturing establishments in the U.S.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau’s 2008 County Business Patterns

$359 million
Combined wholesale value of domestically produced cut flowers in 2009 for all flower-producing operations with $100,000 or more in sales. Among states, California was the leading producer, alone accounting for about three-quarters ($269 million) of the total
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service

$18 million
Combined wholesale value of domestically produced cut roses for all operations with $100,000 or more in sales in 2009
Source: Ibid.

Number of florists nationwide in 2008, employing 89,741 people
Source: U.S. Census Bureau’s 2008 County Business Patterns

Number of U.S. manufacturing establishments that produced chocolate and cocoa products in 2008, employing 38,369 people
Source: Ibid.

$12.2 billion
Total value of shipments in 2008 for firms producing chocolate and cocoa products
Source: U.S. Census Bureau’s 2008 Annual Survey of Manufactures

24.3 lbs.
Per-capita consumption of candy by Americans in 2009
Source: U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Industrial Reports: Confectionery 2009

Average price range of Valentine’s Day cards, though they are available for as little as 99¢ for a simply printed, unembellished greeting card and for more than $9.99 for one with special treatments such as embossing, die-cutting, foil-printing, hand-detailing and/or light and sound enhancements
Source: Greeting Card Association

IBM Supercomputer to Destroy Humans
Next week, IBM’s supercomputer “Watson” will go head-to-head with humanity’s last, best hope for surviving the impending robot menace: Jeopardy! legends Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

On February 14, 15 and 16, IBM’s innovative computer system will compete in a battle of man-versus-machine against the iconic gameshow’s two most successful and celebrated contestants.

Watson is a breakthrough achievement in the scientific field of Question and Answering, or “QA.” Its software is powered by a server optimized to handle the massive number of tasks that Watson must perform at rapid speeds to analyze complex language and deliver correct responses to clues. The system incorporates a number of proprietary technologies for the specialized demands of processing an enormous number of concurrent tasks and data while analyzing information in real-time.

The team of IBM scientists who built Watson set out to develop a computing system that rivals a human’s ability to answer questions posed in natural language with speed, accuracy and confidence. For IBM, the natural-language processing computer is about tackling verticals and bringing hardware and analytics to the fore. The IBM team is working to deploy this technology across industries such as health care, finance and customer service.

Last month Watson won a practice round against Jennings — who holds the title for the most consecutive Jeopardy! wins — and Rutter — who holds the title for the most money won on the show.

The hopes of an entire species will be focused next week on two brave souls flexing their trivia knowledge. And may we, citizens of the world, see these events through. Godspeed and good luck, Jennings and Rutter.

Humanity’s last, best hope
Credit: IBM



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  • Mike
    February 11, 2011

    These computer versus machine things always seem like they are rigged in the computer’s favor. Big Blue did not have to input the moves made by chess masters and did not have to move the pieces themselves and did not have to worry about looking like an idiot by scratching itself in a delicate area. All things a human needs to deal with at the same time as trying to come up with the best answer to a difficult question. Maybe after they consult with one another on their own robot internet they will be at a point I can identify a little bit more with them. I still think they need their own individual endocrine systems.

  • GF
    February 11, 2011

    Humans should have the advantage: We can lie and cheat. Go humans! Go! Cheat to Win!! Unplug Watson. put a magnet on him. spill water on his circuits.

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