Accessing large amounts of information is an area where computers have an obvious advantage over humans. This, along with being better at playing the buzzer, allowed Watson to win on Jeopardy this week. Watson had an advantage in answering questions due to being programed with the information from a massive number of reference books, but even simpler systems are providing benefits to us mere humans.
At present I can ask my Droid a question out loud. While I do not receive a verbal response like those given by Watson, the screen does display the results of a Google search with pertinent information along with information within the Droid. Besides typing in or speaking questions, searches can even be done based upon pictures. For example, yesterday I was wondering where a picture on the cover of a book was taken. The Droid ran a search and gave me information on the resort where the picture was taken along with identifying the picture as the cover of the book where it was obtained.
There is obvious commercial use for a device such as Watson which can answer questions out loud. This includes providing information for physicians:
For I.B.M., the future will happen very quickly, company executives said. On Thursday it plans to announce that it will collaborate with Columbia University and the University of Maryland to create a physician’s assistant service that will allow doctors to query a cybernetic assistant. The company also plans to work with Nuance Communications Inc. to add voice recognition to the physician’s assistant, possibly making the service available in as little as 18 months.
“I have been in medical education for 40 years and we’re still a very memory-based curriculum,” said Dr. Herbert Chase, a professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University who is working with I.B.M. on the physician’s assistant. “The power of Watson- like tools will cause us to reconsider what it is we want students to do.”
I will be looking forward to purchasing one for my office. At present, simply having a Droid in my pocket with web access and several medical references, along with computers in the exam rooms, makes things much simpler than in past decades to quickly obtain whatever information is necessary.
For those who are worried, Watson apparently has no tendencies towards throwing people out of air locks:
“People ask me if this is HAL,” he said, referring to the computer in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” “HAL’s not the focus, the focus is on the computer on ‘Star Trek,’ where you have this intelligent information seek dialog, where you can ask follow-up questions and the computer can look at all the evidence and tries to ask follow-up questions. That’s very cool.”
Or course the fictitious inventors of HAL probably intended to develop a computer to assist the crew as opposed to killing most of them.