Humans and computers used to be separated by one key aspect: the ability to think critically. Not anymore. Meet Watson: IBM’s smooth-talking supercomputer named after the company’s first chief executive, Thomas J. Watson. Last week Watson was brought to its first true test of cognition in a true American arena: Jeopardy! The silicon superman was pitted against the game show’s two biggest titans of trivia in what some say was a battle for the reputation of humanity. Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter have both proven themselves multiple times to be true grandmasters of the Jeopardy battlefield. Jennings dominated the show for 74 straight games back in 2004, and Rutter holds the record for biggest all-time money winner in the show’s history. Needless to say, Watson seems to have had his work cut out for him. On the contrary.
This past week, Watson proved itself continuously by completely dominating the two human opponents in a three-day duel of the minds. Spewing out answers from its plasma-screen avatar and computer-generated voice, Watson was able to decipher human syntax with a certain sense of understanding and confidence. Blowing away Jennings and Rutter by a final lead of over $50,000, Watson left computer scientists and viewers alike in a sense of excitement and awe. There was only one occasion that seemed to confuse the supercomputer. To scientist’s surprise, it answered a final jeopardy question regarding U.S. cities with the response of “Toronto?????” However, Watson did seem to know it was wrong, indicating its confusion with a string of five question marks. Despite this minor flub, IBM’s new technology still more than proved itself in the competition.
Now that this first test has been run, developers and scientists are anxious and hopeful about what Watson can do in various other fields. The system has been praised as a potential diagnostic aid in the medical field that can greatly improve the identification and treatment recommendations of diseases. Even lawyers are optimistic, citing that the technology could be used to assist in the courtroom for building cases and discovery purposes. While Watson can’t predict the future, we can almost be sure that he will be in it.