This blog post is adapted from a paper I recently wrote. It has been adapted and altered, in some cases significantly, for this blog post.
IBM has changed its business direction. Whereas it used to be in the business of making personal home computers for well-off families escaping inner city life by grounding their families in suburbs, IBM has moved into leading the information technology industry in innovation and new technologies.
One of these new technologies is IBM’s Watson. Remember Ken Jennings of Jeopardy? He set a record on Jeopardy by being on the show for so long (he still thought Cher was in the top 10 when he was finally defeated).
IBM had a great idea. Let’s put IBM’s Watson, an artificial intelligence ‘robot,’ up against Ken to see if a machine can beat human’s knowledge capacity (it was also likely a promotional tool for IBM). If you didn’t see that episode of Jeopardy, Watson won. Ken did not beat the machine.
I know very little about artificial intelligence besides it is somewhat fascinating that robots and machines can learn new information on their own. This is not the focus of this blog post. I wanted to focus on something that goes beyond artificial intelligence and the genius work of IBM.
As many of you know, I am Canadian. Recently, the first Canadian to command the International Space Station, Chris Hadfield, returned to Earth (a Globe and Mail article is available here). This was a very exciting time for Canada’s Space Agency, and a source of pride for all Canadians.
Very few people have been in space. Of those, very, very few have commanded the ISI. While in command, Chris did something extraordinary using digital communication channels from space. He used Twitter to show people what their cities and countries look like from space. He used video communication to speak with young students at schools from ISI. He has inspired a generation to take a renewed interest in space and science, instead of TV and computer games. I believe, like Neil Armstrong, Hadfield has inspired people to want to be an astronaut and explore beyond our atmosphere.
How does Watson fit in with this?
I think Watson can do the same. Get kids interested in and excited about careers and jobs in information technology, engineering, and the sciences. Get kids excited about working and studying hard to get a better education to lead to some unique opportunities. If technology is our future, the economy will need many trained professional in information technology to feed the world’s need for more and better ways to analyze data and information, and to stay connected with friends, family, and digital knowledge.
We must also be careful. We must also be careful about information technology’s role in society. It can make jobs more efficient and phase out the need for humans in the workplace. Where will these people work and make money to buy clothes, have shelter, and eat food?
Then again, a new industry may very well develop soon. Someone needs to dust and oil all those machines. Specialized janitor cleaning services – soon to be the quickest growing industry.
For TED enthusiasts, Watson is part of a TED talk by Ken Jennings. What are the consequences of Watson and computers on society and human knowledge?
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Adam Goodwin is changing the world by growing the local #TakeTheActivePledge to a global movement. He is currently Marketing Coordinator for Okanagan Elite Athlete. Along with his start-up one3ag, he is changing the lives of individual children, teen, youth, adults, and older adults with the #TakeTheActivePledge movement. Join him today to help save a generation.