Something happened on Wednesday night that will have a tremendous impact on the lives of you and your children, and if you saw it, I hope you didn’t miss the significance of it.
But only just…
A computer can now “understand” and respond to you
“William Wilkinson’s ‘An account of the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia’ inspired this author’s most famous novel.”
Watson listened to the question, understood it and found the right answer.
He nailed it!
Thanks to the eggheads at IBM, who it appears are really thinking again.
They (IBM) created a platform that allows computers to become proficient at human language. Indeed this complex series of algorithms can actually learn from its mistakes, become better at understanding your questions and providing you with the right answer. This was demonstrated in Jeopardy with disparate categories of questions.
Why is this important to you?
Because it means that computers may (very) soon make your job redundant
Call center reps could be in trouble
Financial advisors are at risk
Family doctors may become obsolete.
And the list extends to any job that requires rapidly accessing huge amounts of information to correctly respond to real life human questions.
The potential for economic disruption is huge
Watson’s victory takes this scenario out of the realm of science fiction and plants it firmly in the realm of possibility—in our lifetime. Within a decade a smart computer like the one in Star Trek could be in your home and office.
But over the next two decades thanks to Moore’s law and IBMs continued focus, Watson may go nano and future Jeopardy contestants may have to be searched to make sure they don’t have a Watson hidden in an ear.
Does this mean the rise of computer overlords?
While there are many philosophical and ethical questions surrounding computers that can emulate human language and thinking, I believe that the axiom of garbage-in, garbage-out still applies: computers will only operate within the parameters given to them by humans—and that could be good or bad.
We’re already using drones to spy on and kill people so humans will ultimately determine whether the technology will be used for good or evil.
Computers may one day become conscious and self-aware, but that’s a long way off, and there’s no reason to believe that such awareness will be accompanied by emotions, a necessary ingredient (I think) for a science fiction “rise of the robots”.
But it could mean tremendous economic disruption
I think this is a real possibility facing humanity over the next three decades, and it will require new ideas on a grand scale of what it means to work, and earn a living. If we humans don’t guide this process, we may be crushed by it; revolution style.
There is a tremendous upside
If we handle Watson’s technology well and proactively, prepare our children to anticipate and cope with change, to adapt and continuously learn throughout their lifetime, Watson’s Jeopardy win could herald the dawn of a tremendous great age of mankind, where work becomes truly fulfilling and all human beings become artists, philosophers, scientists, explorers, and perhaps most important of all spiritual.
Perhaps Dec 21st 2012 is not a cataclysmic end of the world as some people fear, but rather the beginning of a new age of humanity, a new age of freedom, passion and fulfillment for all human beings on the planet, a new age made possible by Watson.
At the very least, computers are about to become a whole lot cooler.