Did IBMs Watson Cheat?

Most assuredly Watson … or rather its IBM masters cheated. IBM got the dispensation that  Watson did not have to read or listen  to the clues as Ken Jennings  and Brad Rutter did. Understanding a spoken question is no mean feat -as viewers see in the annual National Spelling Bee.  In fact IBM used to have one of the leading PC software programs for understanding spoken  speech during  most of the 1990s. With voice training it could “understand” dictation with a 99 to 99.5% error-free rate. That means, on average,   only 1 in 150 words are misinterpreted by the IBM voice savvy program. A great starting point for IBM.

But Ken and Brad have to  listen understand  in Jeopardy  -parse the meaning during Alex Trebek’s reading of the  clue or answer. Ken and Brad have the added help that they get to read the revealed clues so if they have any doubts, they can rectify them from the visual read of the clue. But again, IBM has had text scanning programs for decades – this is not new technology. So Watson could and should have had to match Ken and Brad on an equal footing – display the  ability to hear, read and understand the Jeopardy query/answer.


NYTimes Demo Version of Jeopardy-IBM  Watson Challenge
In fact, as IBM moves forward on delivering Watson as a commercial product, this is the next challenge of “humanizing” Watson. The machine will have to be able to respond to verbal and/or  read/scanned written commands as well as typed or “direct “input. In fact, it was this aspect of the “challenge that Ye Editor found most disconcerting.

Neither during  the Jeopardy program or the coverage of the contest by PBS’ Nova program did Watson’s inputs gets displayed and addressed. So many additional questions on potential “unfair advantages” for Watson were not clarified. What exactly was the nature of the inputs Watson received? Was Watson afforded special coding?  Or were the querys identical to what viewers plus Ken and Brad saw on the Jeopardy set? And how were the queries fed to Watson? As a command line instantaneously  transmitted to Watson? And when was input given to Watson – exactly when Alex started reading the query/answer or at the moment he finished reading?

Do You Detect  A Few Bits of  Machine Paranoia Here?

Assuredly so again. Back at the 1964 Worlds Fair in New York, fairgoers including a very young Editor were promised aerial cars and more leisure time for the population then any one would know  what to do with by the turn of the 21st century. Fast forward 46 years later and the Great Leisure has yet to arrive. In fact, it takes 1.35 people to earn the median  US familiy  income of $44,389 while two earners  just crack $90,000 per year. Look what has happened to the labour force participation rates:

If it weren’t for the Financial Meltdown  and other recessions the US would be on its way to 70% of all people working … or is that having to work to make a living? Because that is the problem now.First, wages are stagnant if not declining over the past 10 years. Second, a reflection of  the dwindling pay for work – the supply of jobs  is diminishing,  not meeting demand. The result is that  the worldwide unemployment rate is gradually inching upward as work no longer expands to fill the the increasing numbers seeking it. The CIA Factbook shows  this gradual increase in the World unemployment rate. And the Factbook does not measure the huge % of the World’s  population that is grossly underemployed – as  hundreds of millions in China, India, and other developing countries live on barely subsistence wages.  One can see the problem in the US where the downturn saw millions of jobs exported overseas to lower wage earners with likely few ever to come back. Hence the following chart:

Look whats happened now that  5 million jobs have been permanently exported from the US. The number applying for work exceeds the supply of jobs by 4 or 5 to 1. And the ratio constantly surges up and down as the number of people returning to the labor force surges with each tiny increase in available jobs. And now IBM through  Watson and “buddies” wants to take a sizable chunk of the high paying  professional jobs in medicine, legal work, even engineering and automate them. So between outsourcing and automation, even highly educated job positions become vulnerable to one or both pressures – 1)downward trend on wages associated with the profession;
2)downward trend in the number of positions available in the profession available.

So no thank you IBM and Watson. Computing and the outsourcing it has enabled  have already taken enough jobs with no realistic planning for the consequences. Now  Watson and ilk are being prepped to take  away well paying  professional job opportunities. Shaping a “Smarter Planet” means addressing these issues not ignoring them or papering them over and, in the worst case, outright denying them.