Watson’s Jeopardy Run a Big Win for Humans — Even if Robot Wins

VP of IBM Research David McQueeney

If you’ve tuned in to “Jeopardy” this week, you’ve seen Watson, the IBM-built computer interface, trounce the human competition, including two of the game show’s previous champions.

So, is it just a matter of time before robots take over the world?

Well, not quite.

In fact, David McQueeney, vice president of IBM Research, who spoke to The Washington Post technology blog Post Tech, said the application was actually designed to help humans, not compete with them.

Although, he added, the computer’s appearance on “Jeopardy” has been an example of “good science and good entertainment.”

McQueeney said he has spent many years working the issue of unstructured data.

“We’ve been working for a long time about helping humans navigate a large amount of data, ” he said. “There’s all kinds of incredibly valuable information about the way an agency runs in unstructured data, and we’ve been working for decades on extracting meaning and structure from it.”

The biggest challenge is the complexity of the human language, he said.

“It’s hard for a computer to understand the way you and I speak to each other,” he said. “It requires context.”

Once the computer masters that, McQueeney said he envisions all of the different types of data that could one day be put to use, in addition to trivia, which, by definition, is somewhat trivial.

“Imagine taking Watson, and instead of feeding it song lyrics and Shakespeare, imagine feeding it medical papers and theses,” he said. “And put that machine next to an expert human clinician.”

The computer would be used as a supplementary diagnostic tool (“we’re not going to license the machine to practice medicine,” he said.)  “But,” he added, “it provides an incredible amount of differentiation to make the human better.”

So, even if Watson, the robot, wins the three-game round of Jeopoardy, it’s clear the big winners will be humans after all.

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