Just ask Watson

Say hi to Watson, a contestant on the US quiz show “Jepardy” on 17th February 2011. Watson ended up winning the show, he also ended up being championed as the Webby Person of the year 2011. However, the latter accolade was slightly controversial, though not because dear Watson was undeserving (far from it), but because Watson is in fact not a person. Watson is a computer – a highly complicated one at that, with an unparalleled handle and understanding of the natural language. He (and I hate the fact that we are assuming Watson is male) is the world’s most comprehensive question-answering computer system, meaning that if Watson does not know the answer, than it isn’t worth asking. Like many high-achievers, Watson’s future career looks to be in the medicine – using his linguistic and analytical abilities to develop products in areas such as medical diagnosis.

Watson - not exactly a friendly face to compete against

Watson is the child of IBM and a bit of an only child at that, as the subject of an intense and rigorous education, and the object to unswerving support and praise-

Watson performs so fast that it can rival the greatest human contestants in understanding a Jeopardy! clue and arriving at a single, precise answer. The significance of this accomplishment can be difficult to comprehend.

Watson also managed to pull off a spoilt, near-calamitious breakdown in the Jepardy episode (very teenage tantrum), resulting in anxious faces all round. The particular challenge Watson faced was deciphering the show’s rapid fire format and clues that rely on subtle meanings, puns, and riddles – all conspiring to make Watson look a little lost for words. Thus, what I really like about this tale is the infectious belief and enthuisasm in technological progress.

I love how Watson’s team sit nervously around the studio, finger-biting, fidgeting and anxiously awaiting Watson to succeed – just like my parents encourage me to “do my best” at interviews or exams. Thus while Watson is a supercomputer, there is something very human in the way he excites people, and the sense of success that he exudes – even his rather nasal voice is textbook assertive. I pity his competitors who look meekly on, despite being two of the most successful players ever to have taken part in the show – Watson makes it look easy. Let’s just hope he congratulated them too.


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