I attended a viewing and panel discussion for the final episode of Jeopardy! IBM Challenge in which IBM’s Watson supercomputer beat reigning champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in a 3-night challenge of standard Jeopardy! games. Check out my previous post to read more about the tech behind Watson and what IBM hopes to do with this impressive technology. This post will focus more on the public perception of Watson, and what it means to have a technology that is credited with producing very accurate conclusions based on complex data.
The panel discussion and viewing event was hosted at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. In the interest of full disclosure- I am currently enrolled as an M.S./Ph.D student in RPI’s Science and Technology Studies Dept. It’s also worth noting that Principal Investigator, David Ferrucci; research scientist Chris Welty; and Senior Software Engineer Adam Lally, are all RPI alumni.
I asked a few RPI students, during the preceding reception, two questions: 1) what they foresaw as the first application of Watson, and 2) whether or not they were afraid of Watson. A group of three guys, Alex, Sean, and Thomas wanted to see this technology replace the Google algorithm or WebMD. Two women, Anna and Karen, repeated what they’d heard the previous night, that Watson would be a tool to deal with “information overload.” For the second question, all five students seemed puzzled. How could a machine that sorts data, be evil? (more…)