Friday, February 18, 2011

Random punditry regarding IBM's Watson

I followed with considerable interest this week the game show Jeopardy! where one of the contestants was an artificial intelligence built by IBM called Watson.

Ordinarily I would try to offer some unique insight of my own about Watson. I would be tempted to acknowledge Ken Jennings' rephrasing of the now-ubiquitous Simpsons quote, "I, for one, welcome our new XYZ overlords". And I'd give my thoughts about what problems of modern society might be effectively addressed by this new technology, possibly in economics, medicine, or social policy.

But so many large buckets of ink have already been poured over the topic of Watson that I think I'll kick back and let the harder-working pundits and bloggers have this one. So let's get started.

An online publication called Washington Technology, whose business is to ensure that Beltway contractors know just enough 1337speak to get by, mentions that Watson will now be working with some medical schools, presumably to suck their knowledge into its database. The original source for that information appears to be an AP news story. Then it will absorb speech recognition technology from Nuance, Inc who had previously absorbed Dragon Systems. This will address the problem Watson faced during game play that it could only receive queries as electronic text messages.

Not much insight from EETimes, alas. They talk about a couple of pedestrian applications of data mining (basically what Netflix or Amazon does all day) in medical diagnosis where, like Watson's possible Jeopardy answers, each is assigned a confidence level, and in... wait for it... identifying patterns in shopping behavior, like the card readers at my local grocery store. Gee, that sounds world-transforming.

MSNBC talks about the same stuff Washington Technology talked about, and adds the data mining angle, this time playing Whack-a-Terrorist with license plates, credit card transactions, Internet activity, flight manifests, phone records, bank records, blah blah blah, every dystopian movie you've seen since 1993.

That appears to cover 99% of the recent writings about Watson. A little disappointing. Maybe I'll need to come up with something myself after all. Hmm. Maybe Watson's next skill set should be online punditry.

No comments: