Watson's Children

Posted by albinard on Mar 18, 2011 11:30 AM EDT
LXer Linux News; By Emery Fletcher
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LXer Feature: 18-Mar-2011

IBM's Watson won the Jeopardy Challenge, but what's more important is the place his offspring will win in the not-to-distant future. When IBM's Watson triumphed at the Jeopardy challenge I cheered, along with a great many other people and a good bit of the media, but most of all I started looking forward to something nobody has yet mentioned: Watson's Children.

There is little doubt that the Watson triumph heralds the Next Big Thing. I don't mean a commercial Next Big Thing, like the latest Personal Amusement Device, I mean a truly BIG new thing, the first step toward producing something that will significantly alter the direction of the future. For the first time there is a system that gives an electronic device the ability to accept input in the form of words arranged as common speech, and from that input generate output, in the same form, that has been processed to respond appropriately to the input message. That is the fundamental essence of communication.

“Message” is the core of the matter. Human speech is not efficient. It is not a collection of some minimal number of words carefully arranged to carry a message in the most unambiguous way. What we ourselves regard as “understanding” human speech is the ability to extract a message from an array of words that have varying importance and that may have different meaning according to their syntax in the array. In the Jeopardy Challenge, Watson demonstrated the ability to extract a message from the words, process it correctly, and collect appropriate material for a response. I would suggest that such a performance demonstrates a capability about as close to “understanding” as an electronic device gets.

Whatever combination of algorithms, approximations, and arcane programming the IBM gurus have put together to achieve their triumph, the goal has been reached and the genie is now out of the bottle. Once done, the feat can be accomplished again, and elaborated upon, and streamlined, and improved. There is no longer the option of scoffing at the notion of a Star Trek computer to which one speaks and receives an answer.

In time the clones and copies will begin to appear and proliferate, the techniques will gradually mature, the applications will multiply. The hardware requirements will be first reduced, then miniaturized, and the cycle will repeat again and again. And in a length of time that will seem amazingly short, someone will inevitably construct a series of mobile robots, linked by wifi to a central bank of servers, which can do the same thing.

They will be Watson's Children.

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I couldn't agree more Scott_Ruecker 10 1,093 Mar 19, 2011 4:02 PM

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