Nothing Finer than Living in North Caroliner

Nothing Finer than Living in North Caroliner
Blue Ridge Smoky Mountains

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Day 67 - WATSON From Drink to THINK

Q: So how did the engineers and programmers at IBM come up with the name Watson for their computer that was trained to play the game Jeopardy? 

A: There was lots of debate within IBM about Watson’s name and image. How human should it be? Many worried that the public would view Watson as scary: a machine that learns our secrets and steals our jobs. So they decided to limit Watson’s human qualities. They would give its friendly, masculine voice a machine-like overtone. And its face, if you could call it that, would simply be a circular avatar—no eyes, nose or mouth, just streaming patterns representing flowing data. Despite these choices, I’ve noticed that fellow Jeopardy players immediately start to respond to Watson as another human—and not necessarily a friendly one. It’s playing the game, after all. And it usually beats them.

Watson's LCD Face
Thomas J. Watson
As far as the name, IBM entertained loads of possibilities. They considered THINQ, Ace, even EureQA, a blend of Eureka with QA, for question answering. In the end, they picked Watson, for IBM’s founder, Thomas J. Watson. In the literary world, it also fit into the stories of Sherlock Holmes, a master question-answerer. Of course, in those stories, Watson was only the assistant to the true genius. But considering the widespread fears surrounding smart computers, maybe it made sense to name the question-answering machine after Holmes’ plodding number two.

This was taken from the review of the book Jeopardy: Man vs Machine by Stephen Baker who chronicled the task of IBM to build such a computer with Artificial Intelligence.  I heard about the show trying to capture younger audiences with this new computer Watson as the average age of the audience is now sixty-five.  What better way to do this than technology?  I then heard a podcast of NPR interviewing Stephen Baker after the airing of the final show.  So I had missed the actual show.  So being the curious person that I am, I watched it on you tube.

I have to say that at first I was afraid as it reminded me too much of Skynet from the Terminator move and television series.  Skynet is the pseudo name for the internet in which computers begin to think for themselves and hunt down any enemy that opposes it - all the humans.  Since computers communicate to other computers globally in milliseconds, they always had the upper hand.  Like I do with most fear I tried to see if it is real.  I started by doing a little research.  Basically the IBM team broke down the human sentence structure to the smallest variable and taught Watson this structure.  He was taught how to think like a human brain. The first questions took two WATSON hours to answer one question.  So we can truly appreciate the human brain and what is going on between our ears.  The engineers basically built a database and a program to retrieve bits of that data.  The facts had to be in WATSON in order for it to get to it. So it is not really Artificial Intelligence in theory.

This is how fear works.  We fear because we do not understand.  Once we understand something it doesn't seem as frightening.  The right thing to do when we fear a person or a situation or event is to break it down into its smallest parts.  I heard Pete Dominic on POTUS the other day and he said, "Often times I think I'm right about a view I have regarding politics and then I hear the  argument from the other side which is broken down into something I hadn't heard before. It often becomes clear to me that the more I know, the more I realize I don't know."  Pete also does a good job of understanding the issues of politics and can breakdown arguments of people who use FEAR instead of facts to discuss topics.  Using Fear to debate is a tactical tool as FEAR only makes the opponent more emotional and thus the opponent tends to argue with less rationale.

Try this next time you watch the News promo with one-liners for the upcoming news broadcast; after every promo sentence, shout "FEAR" after every sentence.  "Are your children doing things on the internet when you're not home?" FEAR. "Find out what the local news team spotted on the predator registry today. Is a sexual predator living in your neighborhood?" FEAR. "We could be getting another snow storm tonight, tune into watch." FEAR.  It's intoxicating.  One must recognize there is a thin line growing between news and propaganda with this technique.

Watson was named for the founder of IBM: Thomas J. Watson. He knew a few things about intoxication. After his first job making $10 a week ($10 -a series of ones and zeros), he moved up as a salesperson to his second major job making $100 a week.  He celebrated one night at a saloon and became drunk.  He went out in the parking lot to find everything gone, his product that he was selling, his car, everything. So as a founder he instituted a policy at IBM that alcohol was not allowed. Period.  One wonders if on February 14, 2011, the day WATSON won Jeopardy, if he might have celebrated with one glass of champagne. Can you imagine your namesake winning on Jeopardy

Thomas J. Watson registered the slogan "THINK" at IBM.  It is written on every wall in every room within the organization. The internal newsletter is called Think.  I'm sure there's an article in Think that asks the jeopardy question: "The binary code 01010100 01001000 01001001 01001110 01001011" The answer is: What is THINK?

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