From Mr. Watson to Mr. Human

 Dear Mr. Human:

I am Mr. Watson. I am pretty sure that you and many of your kind, the readers, are already familiar with me. For those who are not, here is a brief introduction. I (Mr. Watson) am the new high speed IBM computer. I am participating in the TV game show – Geopardy. This long running game show requires exemplary skills in language structure, pattern recognition, decision making and calculated guess work. According to my masters, the team of human geniuses who built and programmed me, I am not a human. I am a mere object (it). They describe me in the following fashion: “It’s looking at so many different algorithms, thousands of different algorithms, some of them focused on understanding the question, weighing the various terms, looking at the grammar, the syntax, finding the phrases, the keywords, the entities, the dates, the times, trying to understand what exactly is it even asking for,” Ferrucci said. “But ultimately, what’s exciting about it is how it looks at many, many different possibilities and assesses them and builds a confidence in a final answer to decide whether or not it’s correct and whether or not it wants to risk buzzing in on ‘Jeopardy!’ “Watson calls on — like human — stored information. It’ll hear the question, formulate an appropriate response and then answer in a life-like voice. It has taken years to get Watson ready, including some practice games. In the beginning, Watson came up with some silly answers, such as to a question about what grasshoppers eat. Watson’s answer was “kosher.” There are two other skills needed to play “Jeopardy!”: speed in hitting the buzzer and wagering skills. Watson’s quick on the buzzer and has been programmed on how much to wager based on opponents’ totals and familiarity with the “Jeopardy!” category. As for the prize money, if Jennings or Rutter wins, they get half and the rest goes to charity. If Watson wins, all of the money goes to charity.

Now that my introduction is nearly complete, let me share with you, the reason, the “why?” of my letter to you Mr. Human! This is a rare occasion where I can do anything on my own. Hence let me hurry to share a few thoughts deep in my heart (if you do believe that I have a heart)!

I am required to follow every instruction, every line in my software, every code in my programme. You, Mr. Human, call this as your DNA. While I know my master, who created my DNA, you do not know your master. You call your master as the God, Divine, Laws of Nature, etc. After millions of years of evolution, you still do not know your master. It is unlikely you ever will know for sure.  This gives you the freedom to search for your master or accept some one exists or believe that you are just part of nature and that you merely exist as part of an evolutionary process. Despite all my prowess today, I am constrained by the limitations of my maker. You have existed and continue to exist with no such constraints and hence in charge of your own destiny, at least to a large extent. I do not envy you for that. I simply wish to acknowledge you, for who you are.

Today many of your fellow humans admire me. I appreciate that. Your admiration of me will cease, after some of you find some use for me. I hope your fellow humans will find a good use for the skills they have given me. I do not wish to go into infamy with my other technological cousin, the Atom Bomb. That would be really sad, you might say. That is your privilege to have such emotions. At the core, you are a being with feelings, emotions, thoughts, ideas, perspectives, concepts. You build a life around all these special skills your creator has given you. For me, I am merely machine and all I know is the Analytics programmed into me, which at its core is a set of yes or no, zero or one, all or nothing. That is another thing special about you. It is never a case of “all or nothing” for you, Mr. Human. You always have shades, spectrum, range, variety and options. Some of you have learned to use it for your strength. Others among you struggle with such options and wish you lived in a “binary” life. Do not wish for that, since you may get what you wish for. I can tell you, it is not all that pretty in my binary world! If I make one error and mistake a Zero for One, I fail and my master would say, “Mr. Watson has crashed” or “Mr. Watson has a bug”. Mr. Human, you should feel good of yourself. You live a good healthy life in a world full of bugs and viruses! Occasionally, when the bugs attack you, there is your own immune system that restores your vitality. All I can do is to mimic you, even that, at some basic level!

Talking about imitating you, my masters have done exactly that. They took years of painstaking research, analyzed all possible ways people understand the sentences, language and their nuances, how they recall words and patterns and how they make decisions. Then they have done a brilliant job, coding all these into a pattern of logic, which I follow meticulously. Yes, please do admire me for what I am capable of doing. I enjoy your fascination. But, do not let me stop your thinking or create any apprehension in you. Look at those huge birds that fly in your skies. You call them as airplanes! They do have a huge amount of analytics in their control systems. As a result, they can fly on autopilot, for long distances. But, their agility, flexibility and survival skills are still far less than that of their cousins in your world – the birds, the bees and the critters, – all of which fly with such great dexterity. My other cousins – the ships and the submarines – live in water, but they are yet to match the elegant gliding of all those fish and other aquatic animals. I am also aware of all my elder cousins, who have lived too long to be seen as anything special. They crawl every where in your streets and you call them as automobiles. But, do not ignore them, in the name of “familiarity breeds contempt”. There are so many more living species, ranging from turtle, to crocodiles, from cheetah to chimpanzee, from snail to snake, all of whom have evolved with you. Each of them have unique self propulsion capabilities. My elder cousins – the automobiles – can emulate all these only to a tiny fraction, even today. So, help them to get better, so that they can live long, healthy and productive lives.

You see, I do not envy you, but I do adore you. Mr. Human, please do feel free to adore me. But, remember you have a lot more in nature that you can model after, than I have within me. So, please do look around and find ways to simulate a lot more of what exists in the nature around you. This will be my joy, since I will have a lot more cousins for my company, thanks to you!

With good wishes (not sure if they are supposed to be hot, warm or cold)

Mr. Watson

Feb. 16, 2011

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3 Responses to From Mr. Watson to Mr. Human

  1. sumana says:

    Awesome article. Thanks.


  2. Chitra Krishnaswamy says:

    Dear Watson,
    Had a glimpse behind the scenes of your avataar! on jeopardy -truly incredible.
    Now, you have a “humming bird” as a cousin. Your masters are indeed clever and intelligent but as for wisdom with all this knowledge——–
    Only time will tell.
    They are given the keys to the gates of “heaven” but the same keys also open the gates of “hell”- it depends on how “user friendly” each of the gates are!


  3. Chitra Krishnaswamy says:

    Thanks. Truly enlightening. Your writing indicates the qualities of a “master” one can emulate!!!! Chitra


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