A couple years ago, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty told the world that there was nothing to fear when it came to Watson, IBM’s computer that is, arguably, the smartest, most human-like computer ever built.
In an onstage interview at the time, she said IBM was working on making Watson even smarter. So smart that it could think and reason, even argue, like a human. But she said this was no reason to worry.
It’s a service. Do not be afraid. It is really, truly an advisor to a decision-making process. There are many things the human brain does that is not imitated … Think of it as an assistant.
But, it seems like something has changed at IBM as Watson grows ever smarter. So smart, that the computer just penned a cookbook, is revamping healthcare, and is available as a cloud service that lets anyone tap into its mega analysis brain.
As it becomes more human, Rometty is starting to think of it as a “he,” not an “it.”
In an interview on Charlie Rose that aired Thursday night, Rose asked her about IBM’s huge new push into healthcare thanks to Watson. She replied (emphasis ours):
What Watson can do — he looks at all your medical records. He has been fed and taught by the best doctors in the world. And comes up with what are the probable diagnoses, per cent confidence, why, rationale, diagnosis, odds, conflicts. I mean, that has just started to roll out in Southeast Asia, to a million patients. They will never see the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, as you and I have here. [But] they will have access. I mean, that is a big deal.
We’re not saying Watson is like Skynet, the mythical evil human-hating computer network in the “Terminator” movies.
But some big names in tech have begun to send fearful messages out about computers as they grow smarter. Elon Musk says he thinks artificial intelligence will become “our biggest existential threat.”
And Bill Gates has warned, multiple times, that there are long-term concerns with computers that are smarter-than-humans, and that in the near term, software could be killing off people’s livelihoods, if not their actual lives.
Here’s the clip where Rometty talks about Watson. In the early parts of the interview she refers to Watson as an “it,” but later, slips into “he.”
Is it unnerving that Watson has become so human to the people who created it (or should we say, created him?).