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Watson: Will Zombies Inherit the Earth?

Last week we witnessed a modern-day St. Valentine’s Day massacre when yet again a computer entered a hallowed arena of human intellectual combat and trounced the best that the human race had to offer. And Watson’s Jeopardy victory was a seriously impressive feat of engineering, with many more practical business applications than the last widely publicized machine-on-man intellectual violence perpetrated by IBM, Deep Blue beating chess champion Gary Kasparov.

So give Watson its due. Still, Watson is a zombie. In The Learning Layer I describe zombie systems as those that are unable to pay attention to, and learn from, human behaviors and to adapt accordingly. And furthermore, as we all know from late night movies, zombies just do things—they don’t have the ability to articulate why they do things. Just like probably every system you have ever interacted with.

Of course, now we have the technology that could rescue Watson from the realm of the zombies by adding a capacity for social awareness, and an ability to automatically learn from this social awareness. This Watson Jr. would combine Watson Sr.’s formidable textual searching, pattern matching, and natural language processing, with social learning skills. If you work in a call center, you should already be a bit worried about Watson Sr. But Watson Jr. would be quite a formidable force in a whole lot of different job markets!

We could even go a step further and put an explanation engine into Watson Jr.  He could then explain effectively, in human terms, why, for example, he proposed one Jeopardy response versus another response. Of course, since the actual rationale would be basis all of those highly inter-related and complex pattern matching algorithms he inherited from Watson Sr., he would often find it hard to explain to us his specific reasoning. Perhaps he would humor us by just making something up that he thought we would find plausible.

Come to think of it, if we asked Ken Jennings why he guessed one response versus another response, he might have trouble articulating exactly why. Just a hunch or a feeling, perhaps. Maybe there is a little zombie in all of us . . .