Why Watson Matters

Computers are taking over.

Okay, there's no need to sensationalize, but we can't ignore Watson's impact on the relationship between knowledge and technology. You may be thinking that Jeopardy in no way represents practical information. You'd be right about that, seeing as Watson can basically only do Trivial Pursuit and Jeopardy. You might also think that Watson's win is meaningless because he can obviously read and respond faster. That's probably true also, because Watson reads and processes text almost instantly, and his pneumatic thumb performed absurdly fast. But was it the stupidest use of a supercomputer ever?

Absolutely not.

Watson represents the next step toward instant education -- the access to knowledge via technology. His advantage over humans is his ability to instantly access the enormous database that sits in the room downstairs from the Jeopardy mock-up set, analyze the question, and come up with a plain-English answer. For Watson, anything he needs to know can just be uploaded into his "brain." What's important, is that someday humans will be able to tap into that power, easily and instantly.

Think back to the computers of yesteryear, which resided in enormous room-sized servers. Contrast those to the USB drives available at Best Buy [insert horrible things to say about Best Buy here] for less than a soda. Soon Watson's computing power, and knowledge-base will fit on a tiny hard-drive, available to anyone. A "Watson" may cost a million bucks now, but IBM claims the price is dropping, fast. All those years Ken Jennings spent memorizing facts, datum, trivia, biographies, locations, science, literature, culture, will be available literally at our fingertips. Pretty soon, it's hard drives in the brains, plug in the Watson chip, and you're a Jeopardy champion, as if you read it all in a book. It'll be like remembering all the information on Wikipedia as easily as remembering that you ate a chocolate-chip muffin 5 minutes ago.

And then what? What else can we save on a chip and plug in? We will eventually all just have the same knowledge base? What happens then?


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What IBM's ‘Watson' Finds Elementary, And Not So Much

Ken Jennings on Losing (Or winning?)

"Does Watson Know What it Wants to Learn Next?"

Someone who disagrees with me
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