The Data Agenda

Friday, October 30, 2015

2 Sides of Watson

You may have seen the ads IBM has been airing for its Watson system recently. Here is one of them:

So cute and friendly, right?

Watson is IBM's cognitive computing system. IBM explains, “to understand the power of Watson, we must first understand cognitive computing and how it enhances, scales, and accelerates human expertise.”

Fast Company ran an article about Watson in its November 2012 issue.

By way of background, the article explains, “The way Watson solves problems—or, rather, the way it looks for answers, simultaneously sending out thousands of inquiries in all directions and then scoring the evidence it collects—is different from how other computers work. One person at IBM likens Watson's process to (1) gathering hundreds or thousands of possible solutions from a vast data bank, (2) pouring them into a giant funnel, (3) stirring with a dash of algorithms, and (4) letting only the best drip out of the bottom.”

A dash of algorithms? Who needs to explain chemistry when you can just make it sound like alchemy instead?

This human-created system must be beyond humans if “Watson can ingest more data in a day than any human could in a lifetime.”

Two quotes from that article stand out, and they stand in stark contrast to one another.