Thursday, February 17, 2011

Watson Isn't AI

Not unexpectedly, Watson's dominating Jeopardy appearance is being billed as man vs. machine, but that's not at all accurate. Watson doesn't "remember" things, or think, or even really process. He knows grammatical rules, and is programmed kinda' sorta' with a custom version of Google. Imagine if someone playing Jeopardy was able to type very quickly, and when a question was asked, they could type that question into a search engine. The average person could dig up the answer very quickly, and we certainly wouldn't claim that person "won" anything. That's what Watson is doing. In fact, it's not even impressive enough to be voice-recognition. He receives the question via text.

That's not to say that Watson isn't incredible. He is. Essentially, the advances made in Watson could be put into newer and better search engines, letting users find answers to actual questions. Much like Ask Jeeves used to advertise, back in the day. Currently, finding difficult answers in search engines requires skill, silly as it sounds, in searching. You have to know how to use key terms, how to combine them, which tangents to follow, etc. Watson could significantly reduce that requirement.

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