Monday, February 28, 2011

Watson: So Much Potential


I'm sure that a large portion of our society is familiar with Watson, IBM's question-answering machine who was recently featured on Jeopardy, where he obliterated reigning champions.

Development Process To Maximize Potential
I have an intriguing idea regarding Watson's potential.

First, of course, Watson has to be made to answer every question accurately. In other words, he should be able to answer all questions correctly. For those that he cannot, the algorithms must be tweaked, and any underlying problems must be fixed. (Please excuse me if I make this sound like an easy task.)

At this point, these algorithms should be further modified to a point, where Watson can "understand" allusions and word plays, and "understand" references (for example, when a sentence, which is preceded by another reads, "He...," Watson can work out what the "He" relates to. Essentially, he can mathematically understand the dynamic nature of language) . Then combine them into a well-structured and cohesive paragraph - or maybe even large essay-sized discourse.

Now notice that this sort of question answering system would be almost the polar opposite of Jeopardy-style. Instead of giving clues and receiving a one-word answer, Watson would receive one-word and return larger, more substantive, piece of writing.

Ultimately, Watson could be digging apart references between all sorts of sentences and finding connections between millions of articles to make one mega article. He could quickly perform such extensive research, beyond the ability of the human mind.

The Potential
Therefore, we may pose grand questions such as "what is life?" Now, of course he wouldn't have access to any documentation or theory that we do not have access to. However, if he were capable of analyzing more sources than a single human could in his or her lifetime, and he could understand allusions, and he could find synonyms (with direct accuracy - unlike the middleschooler who wants Microsoft Words to give him bigger words, without considering the accuracy to the initial word), and incorporate studies from other disciplines, Watson may be able to arrange words that may change the current perspective on "life" - or whatever the question was.

Why that works
Now, one might ask, why do we need to change the current perspective? In his book "The Origins of Modern Science," Mr. Herbert Butterfield provides an answer. He says that the whole transition to and development of Modern science can be traced back to one thing - and one thing alone: a shift in perspective. I read the book a while ago, so I do not remember all of the specifics, but in the study of oxygen, gravity, and the universe, people viewed them differently within their own minds and were able to understand the world differently than the scientists who supported incorrect theories. Watson's discourse may be the necessary tool to jump start us - or, for those Star Wars fans, put us into hyperdrive towards - the future. Watson may be the force, whose change in scope sparks a multi-discipline paradigmatic shift in understanding. (Eventually, he may even be throwing his articles into his own repertoire of "knowledge".)

Let's be practical
Let's consider a more practical question: "How to cure AIDS?." Watson would then research AIDS, other fields, other disciplines, historical examples, and give "his own opinion" about the elusive cure for AIDS, etc. I, by no means, believe that he will spit out the cure, but it will prompt researchers to take a new look at AIDS, and understand the implications of a minor shift in meaning. Einstein even took the same approach - without the computer - when he asked, "what is gravity?" (Provide a source for this)

Closing thoughts
I understand that this will most definitely NOT be easy, but its worth shot. I understand the negative effects - someone could have a thesis at their disposal without asserting any effort - but such an attempt to develop Watson in such a way would, at the least, provide benefits to the computer science field, and help people think logically even when they don't have a real human there to contemplate thoughts with.

In sum, those are great uses and can definitely help the world in the aforementioned ways. Even if this idea, which I find intriguing, does not succeed in the long-term, perspective-changing goals, Watson still has massive potential in those surgeon-performing-surgery scenarios - he may even save your life one day.

Coming Later:
Later a debate on Watson's conscious, the reason why I quoted so many words of human understanding, etc.

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