IBM Watson, English, and Our World

As a preface to this piece, if you have never heard or seen the IBM creation Watson, a fun showcase of its capabilities is from Jeopardy seen here:


[I apologize for the quality; the better videos no longer seem to be available, but you get the idea.]

So here’s Watson from the perspective of an English major with some computer language background, some cognitive science and psychology background, and some scholarly knowledge about Watson itself.

Watson, in my opinion, is the most fascinating and incredible creation of our time. It really can, and I believe will, entirely revolutionize the world as we know it.

In simple terms, Watson is an incredibly intelligent computer that is built to respond and analyze information similarly to how humans do.

But how does that work?

There is a surprisingly dense amount of philosophy, science, and anatomy behind the creation of something like Watson; to build something that thinks like a human, one has to understand how a human really thinks.

While the BRAIN initiative, a government-funded project in the US akin to the Human Genome Project that broke the mystery of DNA, continues, there is still much to learn about how the brain actually functions. Thus, we use fragments and pieces of what we know to design intelligent machines.

Again, put simply, as to explain the entire functionality of something like Watson could be several chapters of a book, Watson has a database of knowledge it is fed through various means. When it is asked to retrieve information, whether it is a question or something else, it makes sense of the input it is given by finding key words, phrases, or similarities.

Now, this science is far from perfect. When Watson was asked for a capital of one country on Jeopardy, it answered with another. The link to “capital” led to one answer and did not cancel out the other information of the other countries. In theory, the computer is able to retrieve only what it needs and to dismiss, essentially, all the information it does not need.

There is great deal of philosophy, science, anatomy, computer science/computer language, linguistics, information systems, and other fields that will continue to contribute to Watson, which is now being used to allow doctors far quicker access to information in curing cancer and diseases. Watson in fact is working to break down results and find the cure itself.

The sky is really the limit for Watson, and I know I’m excited to see how it will begin to find solutions to so many of our world’s problems.

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