Come Here, Watson, We Need You

Charlene OHanlon
IBM's Watson supercomputer has shown its might on the quiz show 'Jeopardy!' and is being hailed by IBM as the next big thing in analytics and computing in general. Indeed, IBM has big plans for the technology in areas such as health care, financial services and even law and engineering, so it's only fitting that Watson is now making its way into higher education where it can shape the way our future leaders think about computing.

Watson today is being showcased at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and the University of Pittsburgh, where educators and researchers alike will 'share ideas about what's possible with Watson technology in the areas of medicine, law, business, computer science and engineering and more.' And, in true show-business fashion, Watson will take its rightful position behind the podium alongside a few select students for a round of 'Jeopardy!'-style questions.

The idea behind the road show is to get students thinking about computing in ways beyond social networking and writing term papers. Rather, IBM hopes to inspire them to think about how such Watson-like technology can benefit society. Using analytics, researchers can find solutions to time-sensitive, yet labor-intensive problems such as diagnosing illnesses and even shoring up earthquake-damaged buildings safely. And if for nothing else, its natural-language recognition makes for a more 'human' experience.

But does the next generation really need a PR tour from IBM to get it thinking differently about computing? We're talking about a generation that has never known a world without cellphones, DVDs and laptops. It's a population that communicates via text rather than voice, takes virtual vacations and collects friends online like a hobby. It's not inconceivable that these students already see the possibilities with Watson-like technology and are just waiting for the chance to get their hands dirty creating the solutions that will shape tomorrow.

It's my hope, at least, that this next generation is already down that path. With as many technological advances that have already happened in their lifetime, these students are already comfortable with the speed at which technology changes the way we live today. Let's hope that it translates into big ideas for tomorrow.

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