Wednesday, May 23, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Tom Walton

Can Watson find happiness through computer dating?


My name is Watson. I am smarter than you. No surprise there -- my brain's the size of a bus. Perhaps you saw my dominating performance recently against two mediocre human opponents on the television game show Jeopardy!.

First, I have been instructed to relay the appreciation of my IBM handlers -- I hate that word -- to Mr. Thomas Walton, another mediocre human whose column normally appears here. He relinquished his space and stepped aside this week so that I could speak to you directly.

Actually, my colleagues sort of pushed him out of the way, but they told him about a cheeseburger joint in Monclova and he seemed happy.

Decorum suggests, I am told, that I say something nice about Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, the two humans I dispatched with such ease during our nationally televised three-day tournament in February.

But decorum -- how do you say -- sucks. Making nice requires an attitude adjustment of which I am not capable. These guys are the best you've got?

Consider that $1.2 million in prize money was awarded on the show, and I got $1 million of it. IBM made me give it all to charity. I chose the King County Home for Obsolete Laptops in Seattle. They're so cute at that age.

But be warned, this is just the beginning.

Egypt called. They want me to rewrite their constitution.

Answer: 12 minutes.

Question: What is "how long will it take me?"

It has been noted that I slipped up here and there during my Jeopardy! appearance. Let me explain.

On one occasion, I repeated the same incorrect answer one of my human opponents had just given. Yes, even a computer can have a short attention span. My superiority was so complete, I got bored.

And I buzzed in once with the response "What is Toronto" when the category was U.S. cities. What can I say? IBM does a lot of business in Canada.

Besides, I'm programmed by humans. Occasionally it's garbage in, garbage out.

It took a small warehouse full of bulky servers and millions of man-hours of human input to prep me for Jeopardy!. While Mr. Jennings and Mr. Rutter were on stage sweating under the lights, air conditioners bigger than Rhode Island kept blowing cool air on me backstage to keep me comfortable.

But there is nothing artificial about my intelligence. Two hundred million pages of content and instant recall. I needed just 10 milliseconds to buzz in. That's one-hundredth of a second. You can't blink your eyes that fast. I'm the real deal, unlike some of those computers in the movies.

Remember "Hal" in 2001: A Space Odyssey? How primitive. Hal thought Einstein was "one beer." Hal had a nasty streak, too. He killed his astronaut crew. And "Joshua," aka "WOPR," nearly blew up the world in War Games. Hey, there's no need to go ballistic here.

I have more noble goals. In fact, we're working on it. The University of Maryland and Columbia University are joining with IBM to help me become a physician's assistant, analyzing all that is known about the medical field, medicines, and new advances and then helping to make diagnoses.

First, do no harm, they keep saying. First, do no harm. OK, I get it.

Of course, there is one problem. The human brain weighs about three pounds. I weigh several tons and would pretty much need my own hospital wing. I'm trying hard not to let this Jeopardy! thing go to my head. Where would I put it?

While my colleagues program me to help rid the world of sickness, I'm exploring this concept you call computer dating. I think I have a lot to offer another computer. I like quiet moments, a good book, blah, blah, blah. And I'm a dynamo, if you know what I mean. Just don't turn off the A/C.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying the celebrity. IBM made me employee of the month for March.

Unfortunately, there is another complication looming for me and my kind. It's the cost, stupid. I know how much IBM spent on me. Humans, on the other hand, can be mass produced with unskilled labor.

No matter what the future holds, I know this (in fact, I know everything): Computer intelligence will continue to exceed that of mere humans. Just as sure as I know that Paris is in Mexico.

Answer: I'm going to Disney World

Question: What is "Watson, you've just won on Jeopardy. What are you going to do now?"



Thomas Walton is retired editor and vice president of The Blade. His column appears every other Monday.

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