IBM Watson

While it is duly noted that this blog is expressly about iPhone and iPad, well, I just don’t care on this one. As with every rule, rules must occasionally be broken for the benefit of all involved. This is one of those times. In my humble opinion there have been a handful of times in my life that left me with only one thought, “this changes everything”. Yes, the day I first saw an iPhone was one of those but this, dare I say it, may just be bigger.

IBM has traversed the convoluted seas of artificial intelligence and emerged on the other side with a device they call Watson (read full NY Times article here). The rest of us upon seeing this may just call it the single most unbelievable thing we have ever seen. Simply put it is a machine that ingests human speech, calculates a response, and answers the question. Unlike my car which can change the radio station when I ask it to or set the temperature to 70 degrees, Watson does not need you to phrase this in a pre-ordained format, use specific keywords, or anything. Just ask away.

To test this theory IBM mocked up a Jeopardy match with two humans and Watson as the third contestant. Watson did not win all of the time but four out of six ain’t bad. What is amazing is the types of questions it was being asked; anything. Literally. There was even a category where the proper answer involves putting two disparate phrases together where the middle word is shared. In the instance they cited the Jeopardy clue was:

“Classic candy bar that’s a female Supreme Court justice” — “What is Baby Ruth Ginsburg?”

I mean come on! Really? This is amazing. Google? I don’t think so. Bing? Right. I now do a search online with an air of disgust as I have seen the light, and the light is good.

So why post this here? Glad you asked. A few reasons actually. One, let’s briefly draw a comparison between technology and humanity. iPhone. iPhone is an amazing product because it truly leverages technological ability with human needs. Why are websites made by the IT department generally ugly? Because they have all the function and none of the human factor. iPhone fixed that. It is almost as though they knew what it should do and simply did it. Watson accomplishes the same thing. While search engines lead the proverbial horse to water by guiding us to the information we seek (or their best interpretation of the answer), Watson simply fills up the glass, plops in a few ice cubes, a squirt of lemon, and hands it to us on a silver tray. No effort at all. No link hunting, nothing. I have a question and want an answer; not a treasure hunt, just an answer.

So what happens if we fast forward a few years and pair iPhone with Watson? My goodness, can you even imagine? While some might make references to Vanilla Sky or the like, this is why we invented technology. This, for now anyway until that gets too slow or boring, is what technology should be doing for us.

Technology is a tool. As with all tools they must do their job well but more importantly they should operate seamlessly in our lives. We should not notice it but rather enjoy it, use it. At the outset Watson appears to do just that. It is a wild world we live in. Glad I am here to see it.