David Ferrucci on Watson

The following are responses by David Ferrucci (IBM lead researcher) to questions about the computer Watson which were published in Time magazine (7 Mar 2011):

Why aren’t you letting Watson speak for himself today?

Watson is trained to answer questions for ‘Jeopardy!’  It’s not an interactive dialogue system, so it can’t conduct its own interviews.  You can imagine giving it information so it could answer [impromptu] questions, but it would still be responding only from content it’s been given and analyzed.

People have said that Watson functions at the level of a precocious child.  Do you agree?

When an artificial-intelligence system can perform a particular task, we have to be careful not to look beyond the task.  Take ‘Deep Blue’, the [IBM] system that beat a grand-champion chess master.  Few adults are smart enough to do that.  But ‘Deep Blue’ wasn’t a system that could go off and even approach a child’s ability to do language, to move, to think, to interact.

And yet Watson does understand natural language.

But only in a way that we call statistical machine learning.  It gives you the answer that makes sense to you, but it doesn’t mean anything to the computer.

Artificial-intelligence pioneer Marvin Minsky once said that consciousness is like a simple memory chip in the brain.  Is a conscious computer possible?

Over beers, I could talk for hours and hours about that.  But it’s a question best left to a philosophical discussion.

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