Would You Hire Watson?

Frank Ohlhorst
At the IBM Rational Innovate 2011 conference, IBM was touting the capabilities of its research project, Watson-a supercomputer-based artificial intelligence emulator that can mine massive amounts of data and come up with intelligent answers to questions. Still fresh off its winning stint on the TV game show "Jeopardy!" IBM's engineers are envisioning ways to commercialize Watson.

During a meet-the-press type of event at the Innovate Rational 2011 conference, questions flew and engineers cast about hypotheses on what Watson could do. The suggestions ranged from 'Dr. Watson,' working as a physician's assistant to 'Broker Watson,' picking the best investments.

However, before people assign a Commander Data-like sentience to Watson, they will have to realize that there is a lot more work left before Watson can interact like a human being. The way I see it, Watson is an electronic version of Dustin Hoffman's character in the 1988 movie, "Rain Man." Rain Man, like Watson, was able to consume vast amounts of data and answer questions, but he lacked the ability to socially interact with other people or assign any true meaning to the answers.

Simply put, answering questions and formulating a hypothesis are two very different things. Watson many be able to answer questions, but at its present state, it will remain little more than a data-mining tool that integrates natural language skills to understand questions and relay the information back to humans.

That said, Watson does have other potential: It may possibly change the paradigm of how humans interact with machines. Instead of GUI's, mouse clicks and the clack of keyboards, we very well may be entering the age where we can simply ask a machine 'How's the weather' and get an intelligent response.

Time will tell how Watson will be used in the world of science and business, but don't kid yourself. Watson has a long way to go before it can become a member of the management team.

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