Prof. Kerr Discusses the Meaning of Watson, IBM’s Jeopardy!-Winning Supercomputer

Posted on Sunday, February 27, 2011

Professor Ian Kerr recently authored an article for the Ottawa Citizen and visited CBC Radio’s Ontario Today to discuss the significance of IBM’s Jeopardy!-playing supercomputer, Watson.

Ian Kerr

IBM defines Watson as a “computer system that can directly and precisely answer natural language questions over an open and broad range of knowledge.” The computer appeared as a contestant on the popular television game show, Jeopardy!, on February 14, 15 and 16, 2011, ultimately defeating Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, two of the show’s most celebrated former champions. The challenge was hailed as a significant milestone in the advancement of artificial intelligence projects.

“I think people have totally missed the substantial social significance of what is going on with artificial intelligence projects such as Deep Blue and Watson,” writes Prof. Kerr in a February 19 Ottawa Citizen article entitled “The Meaning of Watson.” “Watson generates responses to clues quickly, autonomously and, as IBM programmers came to learn, unpredictably. This incredible accomplishment in the field of artificial intelligence was practically unimaginable just a few years ago when Deep Blue beat Kasparov at chess. But Watson can't really play Jeopardy! – not without a human puppeteer pulling strings behind the scenes. Without the subterfuge of human intervention, Watson remains a computational instrument – not a Jeopardy! contestant.”

The real significance of the Watson project, suggests Prof. Kerr, is that IBM – recognizing the importance of society’s investment in super-machines – was able to successfully forge a connection between Watson and its audience. “There are a series of techniques through which we come to trust and gain empathy for the machine’s systems,” said Prof. Kerr on Ontario Today. “That is certainly what IBM is counting on.”

Click here to view the Ottawa Citizen article “The Meaning of Watson.”

Click here to hear Prof. Kerr on Ontario Today.

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