Industry Insights

Watson – Knowledgeable and More

Many of you know about Watson.  Created by a team of clever IBMers over a few years, last Spring Watson handily defeated two Jeopardy champions at the game.   If you saw it, you know the story and what Watson was able to do:  listen to the query, make sense of it and understand how to tackle the problem, search a store of information equal to roughly one human memory, identify potential answers gleamed from the information reviewed, calculate a level of confidence with each answer, and then, if Watson was confident enough to risk some winnings by offering an answer, activating a buzzer for a chance to respond.   The questions had a single correct response, such as ‘What is O’Hare Airport’ or ‘Who is Nikola Tesla’.   


Yesterday, Watson impressed again.  At the opening day of the National Retail Federation’s annual Big Show, attendees had the pleasure of seeing Watson in action, playing against two intrepid and good-natured human competitors.  Watson won, but that’s not the story.   Among the categories was one for which the answer was a combination of a titles, such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit at Rest (Who Framed Roger Rabbit + Rabbit at Rest) or Million Dollar Baby It’s You (Million Dollar Baby + Baby It’s You).   This is a difficult problem, and was fun and surprising to see. 


On TV last year Watson showed himself (permit me to invoke a gender based simply on name and voice) to be very knowledgeable.  He clearly knew quite a lot.  Would I have considered his behavior a reflection of intelligence?  Well, maybe.  But mostly to the degree that he was interpreting a complicated or even tricky query before picking up different clues to find and evaluate the quality of potential answers.  This is still very impressive to anyone who has seen it.  Yesterday Watson was creating an answer for something that doesn’t even exist.  That’s even more impressive, and to my mind a stronger example of intelligent behavior.  Could yesterday’s performance be considered creative?    Watson did create a solution that didn’t exist within its store of information, but the clues were such that they probably pointed at one correct answer.   So what did he look like?  Knowledgeable, yes.  Intelligent, more so than what I noticed before before.  Creative?  Not yet, but the potential seems to be there.  I’m interested to see what he does next.


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