How long until IBM's Watson is running the world?

I’ve seen the ads that IBM has done for Watson featuring celebrities like Stephen King and Serena Williams. Clearly IBM is pushing this technology now as a business service, kind of like Siri for everything, but I hadn’t really paid much attention to what they have actually been doing with Watson.

In this interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty discusses some of the things they are doing with Watson and it really does sound remarkable. For instance, Watson is now being used to consult on cancer diagnoses. The idea, as Rometty explains, is that an average oncologist can probably retain a little over a hundred cancer studies which he or she can use to try and diagnose patients. By contrast, Watson effectively can access over a million published studies and correlate all of that information very rapidly to help assist in providing a diagnosis.

When Zakaria suggests that Watson is a “better doctor” Rometty pushes back. The goal, she says, is “not to replace anyone” with “artificial intelligence” but to offer the benefits of “augmented intelligence.”

Retaining and making use of detailed information on cancer may strike you as the kind of thing a computer would naturally be better at than a human being. But Zakaria also points out Watson has been used for the “soft skill” of editing a movie trailer for a major motion picture. By scoring people’s reactions to segments of a film, Watson can identify which scenes are critical to generating interest in the film and assemble those much more quickly than a human being.

Here’s the first section of the interview:

In the second half of this interview, Zakaria goes all out suggesting that artificial intelligence could be something for mankind to worry about in the future. He cites the concerns expressed by Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking. Naturally, Rometty isn’t interested in speculating about Watson devolving into some sort of Terminator scenario but the reality is that she’s talking about a near future in which humans rely on machines to make every important decision. If true, how long can it be before that includes government decisions? What if Watson/Skynet really does take over in 30 years but winds up doing a great job? That seems to be the kind of future Rometty envisions for Watson— one in which the use of machine intelligence is as commonplace and widely accepted as older technology like cars and the internet. Indeed, Rometty seems more immediately concerned that Watson will represent a threat to the economy than to life on earth. “Certain jobs will be impacted,” she admits but adds, “but then [another] class of new jobs will be created.” Her bottom line on the threat posed by machines like Watson is, “I think you and I will always be in charge. For the foreseeable future, we do believe that.”

Here’s part two of the interview

David Strom 6:41 PM on September 26, 2022