Ever wanted to get up close and personal with an artificial intelligence system? We jumped at the chance earlier this week when we went to see IBM’s Watson system in action in Shoreditch.
The cognitive computing system—named after IBM’s founder—works and thinks much like humans do. Using natural language processing, Watson acts as an augmentation of human experience: it can learn from reading text and data files, and can adapt its knowledge based on experience. Sound too human to be tech? There’s nothing human about Watson’s ability to speed-read—plus, like an elephant, Watson never forgets. Anything. As it turns out, this is the same machine that made headlines by winning the TV game show Jeopardy, after hitting a reading list that included the entire contents of Wikipedia, Time Magazine, Encarta and a whole lot more.
A super-computer winning game shows and chess matches is just the fun stuff though; the real value of a system like Watson is when it’s applied to sectors such as health care, education and finance in particular. Given the right training, Watson can diagnose illnesses, provide one-to-one tuition or evaluate the likelihood of a particular deal going through. Basically, Watson can be whatever you teach it to be. Give it the rules of engagement and it’ll quickly start to become an expert. And along that way it’ll even tell you its exact confidence level in any of its answers or judgements.
If you’re a developer with an idea for a cognitive app, you can already begin working with Watson Services on Bluemix. Sign up to the IBM Developer Program and you’ll get access to a development sandbox where you can begin defining the expertise of your nascent AI assistant.
The best part is, Watson doesn’t refer to any single entity or system. As a developer you can join the Watson ecosystem and immediately begin feeding it documents, helping it to learn. But yours is not the same Watson that won Jeopardy. Yours is a newborn – a genuine tabula rasa – and it can become an expert in whatever you choose to teach it. It feels a bit like Tamagochi for grown-ups. Only seriously more powerful.
So as you can imagine, we left Shoreditch manically rubbing our hands together and cackling with glee—suffice it to say we’ll just be over here, training up our Watson and planning to take over the world. Or just, you know, doing great Catchy things. With genius assistance.