It was a sort of shocking but not at all surprising experience to watch IBM’s Watson annihilate its human competition in tonight’s Jeopardy. I watched with my daughters (who were charmed by Watson’s politeness and expression) and it was all we could talk about afterwards. As a programmer, I’m awed. Watson is amazing.
But my first and biggest reaction? I wish we had Watson not Google. After all, what's search but a collosal game of Jeopardy? Using Watson would be so much better than search that the experience would hardly seem comparable; like pitting a ride on a crippled donkey to a space shot heading to Mars as alternative forms of transportation. Of course, the cost per answer for Watson is currently much too high to scale to such trivial pursuits. Yet Watson, surely, is a peek into a not so distant future when search as we know it will be a thing of the past.
Nor should we forget that as amazing as Watson is, it just plays Jeopardy.
Watson could not pass a Turing Test nor even come close to doing so – but perhaps that is the next great challenge – and after seeing Watson it does not seem as far off as I might have thought. To pass a Turing Test would require much more than Watson’s excellent ability to decipher meaning and context in natural language and rapidly retrieve information. Much, much more. It is, nevertheless, a significant piece of a much larger puzzle and Watson seems to solve it at a level that is well beyond anything we have seen before in a controlled environment of the richness and complexity of Jeopardy.
A very cool glimpse into the future. “What is Watson?”