Watson Wins! Why Are We Not Surprised?

A few days ago, before Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter faced off on Jeopardy against IBM’s entry in the contest, a super computer named “Watson,” my sister-in-law, who loves all things human, bet me that Jennings or Rutter would walk off the winner with Watson coming in a disappointing third. I took the opposite view believing that Watson would clobber these two mere mortals regardless of their impressive record setting runs as former Jeopardy champs.

I was not surprised when, after a three-day contest, Watson walked off (well actually was rolled off) with the big prize of $1 million.

And why not?

How many people do you know who are walking around with two units of five racks of processors, in which reside 90 IBM servers (each server having 4 CPUs with 8 cores each, where each core has 4 hardware threads) and 15 terabytes of memory? And, in case you’re wondering, one terabyte is equal to 1024 gigabytes. In other words, that’s a whole lot of processing going on!

Everyone is talking about Watson as a breakthrough, in the coming decade, the long push will be for a computer with artificial intelligence.

Until I read about Watson, I thought artificial intelligence was a requirement to run for Congress.

I’m amazed that it took all this processing power to tell us that President Grant is indeed buried in Grant’s tomb. In my opinion, that’s not amazing. Now, my little laptop with 1 gigabyte of RAM that can take the 12,500 emails stored in my inbox, and pull out (in less than a second) the 200 that I have received from my brother Andy…

(I really should clean that box out, I could probably toss 99% of that old mail but I love watching my machine show off.)

Honestly, it would take a staff of five card dealers three hours to do that job and five postal clerks a day and a half. Not my Apple iBook. Hit the return button, and in the blink of an eye, all 200 appear.

Compared to that, telling me that July is named for Julius Caesar is just not a big deal.

Still. it has everyone talking about artificial intelligence and how computers will replace humans in the coming decades with faster more accurate problem solving. If I only had 15 terabytes of facts in my brain, I could have told you that the sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side.

Anyway, I have something Watson doesn’t have: opposable thumbs. When I bring my wife a glass of wine, I can set it down on the table in front of her without dropping it in her lap. I’d like to see Mr. Machine pull that one off!

If Watson wants to do my taxes, that’s fine with me. You need at least 15 terabytes of processing power to figure out the US Tax Code, anyway.

As long as I don’t catch Watson flirting with my wife, we’ll get along just fine.


Martin Brown is the Heath Channel Editor for SingleMindedWomen.com, and co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Finding Mr. Right. His next book, due out March 2011, is Fit in 50 Days.