Saturday, February 19, 2011

What Did Watson Really Tell Us?

I believe it was the most astonishing and significant demonstration of hard science since the first atomic test in July of 1945. I’m talking about the IBM computer, Watson, and its three night test on the TV show, Jeopardy. Few TV viewers could even comprehend what it took to assemble the background data and then accurately connect the relevant points using self-generated algorithms. But, whereas the first atomic test was only seen by government insiders, my fear is that nobody from federal agencies other than the military was watching Watson’s performance.

If you doubt that the U.S. government is incompetent, then you probably don’t know about criminals in prison who collect social security checks and unemployment benefits, or federal workers who double dip by collecting disability payments because they, supposedly, can’t work, or doctors who bill Medicare for imaginary procedures. And the list goes on and on. All of this could be prevented by a computer system with less than a millionth of Watson’s capability, and the savings through fraud prevention would more than pay for the investment many times over. It’s not that the government doesn’t know about computer capability, or that there isn’t a willingness to spend the money. The CIA and NSA and the Pentagon all have computers which, I’m sure, would put Watson to shame. So why won’t we use advanced computer systems to do things other than detect foreign threats and blow enemies to smithereens?

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