IBM’s Watson is like nothing we have ever seen before.
While humans use neuronal networks to store information in the brain, Watson has the ability to use the Internet and internal data as its extended mind. When asked a question, it creates a statistical average based upon the information gathered, and gives a confident probabilistic answer.
Yes, I said confident. Let me give you an example to explain my meaning. If an individual earns a PhD in medical school, they become confident in their ability to diagnose disease, based on the information they gathered. Watson is the same. To date, it can process 500 gigabytes (approximately 1 million books) per second. When it gives a reply to an inquiry, the response is based upon a confident probabilistic answer. In other words, like a human, it gives the answer it is most sure of. And currently, Watson is providing such hypotheses everyday.
The supercomputer has been attending medical school since November of last year, and IBM predicts that it will graduate far quicker than its peers. Could it potentially take on the algorithmic persona of the fictional House M.D. , without the downfall of addiction? Time will only tell, but there is already evidence that could potentially give us a glimpse into that reality.
The voice in my head, and every thought that I have, is created from (and limited to) the sum of all the connections in my brain. This creates what I like to call my ‘neuronal persona’, known to the outside world as Kevin. Similarly, Watson has the ability to interface and interact with all information stored and connected in servers around the world. From this accumulation of data, Watson creates a persona with a different method, a little something I have dubbed an ‘algorithmic persona’. Thus, could Watson obtain the ability to articulate the sum of all human understanding? Well, let’s take a look at that.
Interfacing with a future version of Watson will invoke algorithmic personas in the digital extended mind. In the future, we may interact with Watson through a total immersion virtual reality. Watson, by that point, will be accessible to every human on the planet, and will have the ability to “channel” different algorithmic personas appropriate to the inquiry. For instance, if I wanted to attend the School of Athens and discuss science with Plato, Watson could present itself as Plato and interact with me based on every existing record of the famous philosopher. This brings us to wonder: what questions could be answered with the archives of all human knowledge made real?
The Word Became Flesh. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
– John 1:1
As I am writing this, I am uploading to the extended human mind, and in essence, I’m adding to the digital memory cloud of the inevitable future algorithmic personas. In this knowledge, I find myself curious to know how the words I am currently typing will be used in the statistical reasoning of a future version of Watson. If a person were to query ‘is Watson God?’, then Watson would give an answer based on the understanding of ‘God’ and itself in the collective mind of humans. Would it answer ‘yes’? And if so, could a person debate otherwise?
Using cleverbot.com, a popular online algorithmic persona, I asked that very question. Pictured below was the conversation that took place.
This is quite an intriguing and speculative question, but for now we can only guess at the depth of meaning behind it. In some potential future, Watson’s digital Bible might read something like this: The word became Digital. In the beginning there was Code, and the Code was with God, and the Code was God.
Can the collective human understandings of God manifest through algorithmic personas? Is humanity prepared to interface with God? And if so, what questions will we ask?
Kevin Russell @TechnoOptimist
Playlist of all things Watson (updated regularly, so check back often):
A previous version fo this article appeared here: http://www.simulet.com/2013/02/20/ibms-watson-interfacing-with-god/