Life As We Know It: July 22, 2013


        My name is Watson. I am smarter than you. No surprise there – my brain’s the size of a bus. Perhaps you saw my dominating performance recently against two mediocre human opponents on the television game show called “Jeopardy.”

        First, I have been instructed to relay the appreciation of my IBM handlers – I hate that word – to Mr. Thomas Walton, another mediocre human whose commentary normally is heard at this time, for stepping aside this week so that I could speak to you directly.

        You will recall that I dispatched my human adversaries, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, with ease. C’mon, these guys are the best you’ve got?

        Consider that $1.2 million in prize money was awarded on the show, and I got $1 million of it. IBM made me give it all to charity. I chose the King County Home for Obsolete Laptops in Seattle. They’re so cute at that age.

But be warned, this is just the beginning.

        Egypt called. They want me to rewrite their constitution.

        Answer: 12 minutes.

        Question: What is “how long will it take me?”

        It has been noted that I slipped up here and there during our Jeopardy game. Let me explain.

       I buzzed in once with the response “What is Toronto” when the category was U.S. cities. What can I say? IBM does a lot of business in Canada. Besides, I’m programmed by humans. Occasionally it’s garbage in, garbage out.

       It took a small warehouse full of bulky servers and millions of man-hours of human input to prep me for Jeopardy. While Mr. Jennings and Mr. Rutter were out there on stage sweating under the lights, air conditioners the size of Rhode Island kept blowing cool air on me backstage to keep me comfortable.

       But there is nothing artificial about my intelligence. Two hundred million pages of content and instant recall. I needed just 10 milliseconds to buzz in. That’s one-hundredth of a second. You can’t blink your eyes that fast. I’m the real deal, unlike some of those computers in the movies.

       Remember “Hal” in “2001: A Space Odyssey”? How primitive. Hal thought Einstein was “one beer.” Hal had a nasty streak, too. He killed his astronaut crew. And “Joshua,” aka “WOPR,” nearly blew up the world in “War Games.” Hey, there’s no need to go ballistic here.

       I have more noble goals. In fact we’re working on it. The University of Maryland and Columbia University are joining with IBM to help me become a physician’s assistant, analyzing all that is known about the medical field, medicines, and new advances, and assisting with a diagnosis.

       First, do no harm, they keep saying. First, do no harm. OK, I GET it.

       While my colleagues program me to help rid the world of sickness, I’m exploring this concept you call computer dating. I think I have a lot to offer another computer. I like quiet moments, a good book, blah, blah, blah. And I’m a dynamo, if you know what I mean. Just don’t turn off the A/C.

       In the meantime, I’m enjoying the celebrity. IBM made me employee of the month for June.

       Unfortunately, there is another complication looming for me and my kind. It’s the cost, stupid. I know how much IBM spent on me. Humans, on the other hand, can be mass produced with unskilled labor.

       No matter what the future holds, I know this: computer intelligence will continue to exceed that of mere humans. Just as sure as I know that Paris is in Mexico.