Not so elementary, Watson.
As a self-proclaimed Mac geek and the product of an IBM programmer, I was fascinated when the first commercials for IBM’s artificial intelligence software, Watson, started airing on TV. IBM was touting it’s new creation as “Innovation for a Smarter Planet”. Their goal was to take their modest DeepQA machine and turn it into a Jeopardy! Champion. Asking “If we can teach a computer to compete on Jeopardy!, what could it mean for science, finance, healthcare and the future of society?” Pretty cool, huh? I thought so too.
For those that don’t know me, software is my bread & butter. Despite my attempts to lead a computer free life by jumping feet first into Musical Theatre, I have a God Given talent to understand & dissect software applications on a subconscious level that can only be explained as osmosis and DNA. A second career has sprung forth that allows me to revel in my guilty pleasure of playing with software programs all day long. So, the prospect of seeing a computer program able to process information like a human brain was really compelling. For the first time in my life, I was excited to tune into Jeopardy!.
Imagine my disappointment as I watched the Jeopardy! Match unfold and realize that what IBM had actually created was a computer with artificial Asperger Syndrome and ability to Google. Which, if we’re being honest, is nothing we haven’t seen on Jeopardy a million times before. I failed to see how this PR Stunt innovation was supposed to help our Society? If nothing else, for the sheer entertainment value, they should’ve programmed the computer with Tourette’s Syndrome. I’d enjoy watching Alex Trebek being knocked down a few pegs.
Seriously though, the more I thought about it, the angrier I became. Education in this country in crisis. We don’t pay our teachers what they deserve, our kids are falling way behind other countries and our Politicians are too busy calling each other names to take notice. (If you haven’t seen Waiting for Superman, do so immediately.) IBM had an opportunity to transform education in this country and they blew it. Instead of teaching computers to think like Jeopardy champions, how about if we empower our children to become enlightened thinkers? Teach them to know where to find the answers to the world’s hardest questions. It’s as if IBM is sending the message that our future depends on machines doing the thinking for us. I whole heartedly disagree. It’s time for corporations in this country to start giving back to the people they’ve walked on to build their success. Stop with the grandiose publicity stunts and invest some real time & money in the actual future hope for our society; Our children.