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Will IBM's Watson Kill Your Career?

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the just-don't-give-it-control-over-airlocks dept.

IBM 206

Nerval's Lobster writes "IBM's Watson made major headlines last year when it trounced its human rivals on Jeopardy. But Watson isn't just sitting around spinning trivia questions to stump the champs: IBM is working hard on taking it into a series of vertical markets such as healthcare, contact management and financial services to see if the system can be used for diagnosing diseases and catching market trends. Does this spell the end for certain careers? Not really, but it does raise some interesting thoughts and issues."

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206 comments

In Skynet Russia (-1)

Stargoat (658863) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258297)

In Skynet Russia, IBM's Watson kills you!

Skynet everywhere else for that matter too...

Get a life (0, Offtopic)

G3ckoG33k (647276) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258419)

Hey! Get a life, a Half-Life. Work for Valve [valvesoftware.com] .

Re:In Skynet Russia (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40258447)

This meme was poorly executed. I bet Watson could have done better.

Re:In Skynet Russia (4, Funny)

Stargoat (658863) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258581)

Probably. I expect that's why we'll all be executed.

This Can't Be Happening!!!!! (5, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258327)

Technology and automation were only supposed to drive efficiencies and innovations that made people who weren't me obsolete!

Re:This Can't Be Happening!!!!! (5, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258365)

The real question is what do we do when it makes 90% of jobs unneeded?
I would love to think star trek, but dystopia is far more likely than utopia.

Re:This Can't Be Happening!!!!! (4, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258499)

My understanding is that we hire ~10% of the surplus to guard the prisons that hold the remainder.

Re:This Can't Be Happening!!!!! (4, Informative)

Hatta (162192) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258943)

Which is already happening [salon.com] in the US.

Re:This Can't Be Happening!!!!! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40258511)

We get killed by riot control robots, and eventually there will be a few thousand elite owners in the world served by their robot infrastructure...and those few people will eventually disappear, and the robot system will gradually wind down and the earth will have no intelligent life, save for dolphins and apes (assuming there are any left in the future, not guaranteed.)

Re:This Can't Be Happening!!!!! (3, Funny)

Stargoat (658863) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258965)

In all likelihood, they'll re-evolve eventually. I for one welcome our new re-evolved insect overlords.

Re:This Can't Be Happening!!!!! (3, Insightful)

Gilmoure (18428) | more than 2 years ago | (#40259557)

Don't forget raccoons. Are fearfully smart and have that opposable thumb thing going on.

Re:This Can't Be Happening!!!!! (4, Informative)

Jeng (926980) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258533)

The real question is what do we do when it makes 90% of jobs unneeded?
I would love to think star trek, but dystopia is far more likely than utopia.

Here is a short story that explores that topic rather well.

http://marshallbrain.com/manna1.htm [marshallbrain.com]

Definitely worth reading (1)

Krishnoid (984597) | more than 2 years ago | (#40259383)

Great read -- it doesn't tell the whole story, but works very well as a starting point for humanity's choices as the combination of robotics and computing becomes more capable. It made me watch robot videos [youtube.com] in a new light.

Re:This Can't Be Happening!!!!! (1)

SilentStaid (1474575) | more than 2 years ago | (#40259667)

I happened to see your post after posting the same link myself. I'm glad to see someone else has read it. I first read that story a little over a year ago and it was the first thing that I thought of after reading this headline. I'm inclined to agree with the OP that dystopia is more likely, but I can't help but hope for otherwise.

Re:This Can't Be Happening!!!!! (1)

tagno25 (1518033) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258799)

You didn't watch TNG did you? Eugenics Wars, Sanctuary Districts, WW3

Re:This Can't Be Happening!!!!! (1)

hackula (2596247) | more than 2 years ago | (#40259457)

Can't we just skip that stuff: "Watson, bring up the schematics for a Warp Drive!" Why wait for Cochran to make first contact and usher in a new age of peace when we have Watson?

Re:This Can't Be Happening!!!!! (1)

KingBenny (1301797) | more than 2 years ago | (#40259053)

so emm,
it sounds like a real nice expensive ploy to have something able to store more facts and recall them for a popquiz, but how does this watson really work
does it just store and recall, like most average students with persistence would get above average scores because they store extensive amounts of data without really getting it or being able to link this bit to the other, one keyword invokes a set of data, just like a search engine would, right
or does it try to simulate a human brain, i dont think that is the case since no one understands it yet
that's why einstein was einstein, neutrinos or not

Re:This Can't Be Happening!!!!! (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#40259225)

It's not a neural network. The mathematics is far beyond my level, but from what little I understand it's a natural-language parser linked to one hell of a correlation-finder. It identifies concepts, and tries to work out how the concepts relate to other concepts. If a question contains concepts A, B and C, Watson will look through a vast database and find that A, B and C are all often mentioned in connection with D, so D might be relivent.

Re:This Can't Be Happening!!!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40259367)

90%? Heck I can see a time when it is close to 100%. The only job Watson can't do is prostitute, and by then the robots will have those jobs.

Re:This Can't Be Happening!!!!! (1)

SilentStaid (1474575) | more than 2 years ago | (#40259635)

Ah, good sir! May I introduce you into an important work of science soon-to-be-not fiction? The story of Manna picks up at the end of this Slashdot article, apparently. Seriously though, it's an interesting and thought provoking read... and it's free.

http://marshallbrain.com/manna1.htm [marshallbrain.com]

Re:This Can't Be Happening!!!!! (4, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258471)

People can never be made obsolete. Only jobs can be made obsolete.

And again, like I say in every one of these topics, if the benefits of increased efficiency do not accrue to the entire economy, that's a problem with the economic system, not the increased efficiency. Ideally, increased efficiency should abolish the need for some work allowing us to spend more of our time doing things we want. The fact that it actually ends up enriching the rich and leaving the working classes (and now the thinking classes) destitute is a fundamental problem with capitalism.

Re:This Can't Be Happening!!!!! (5, Insightful)

i kan reed (749298) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258807)

It's not a fundamental problem with capitalism; it's a (very slowly) emerging consequence. Capitalism does not NEED to have this problem, as long as all participants are self-determining, self-interested, rational actors. It's just that all 3 of those points are, at best, approximately true or true for most participants. The introduction of AI into the equation just adds actors who aren't self-determining(the goals of their decisions are predefined) or self-interested(they are programmed/trained to be interested in their owner's success). That will eventually collapse the system, if prevalent enough.

For the moment, though, there are enough tasks that humans are better at than computers that this does not need to be a concern. 50 years from now, being in a true capitalist economy will make your life hell.

Re:This Can't Be Happening!!!!! (1)

DangerOnTheRanger (2373156) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258999)

Someone will have to build and maintain those computer systems. At least until the systems themselves are capable of that job, and by then, you should be very, very afraid...

Re:This Can't Be Happening!!!!! (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40259783)

A good point about opportunity, except that the number of people who build and maintain those systems will be far in deficit from the total number of workers displaced by their very existence. Ideally, you would maintain the same workforce and use those computer systems as a force multiplier for all, but the emphasis these days is "do more with less" rather than "do a whole lot more with the same".

Re:This Can't Be Happening!!!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40259177)

There's nothing fundamentally wring with capitalism except that one of the fundamentals... rational actors ... is completely fucking hopessly wrong.

Good answer. You really showed him.

Re:This Can't Be Happening!!!!! (4, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 2 years ago | (#40259643)

Capitalism does not NEED to have this problem, as long as all participants are self-determining, self-interested, rational actors.

Assuming all those things, how would capitalism solve this problem? If you only need the labor of 1/10th of 1 percent of the population to support the entire population, how does the other 99.9% earn their keep?

The only answer is by encouraging people to buy things they don't need. But that just means people need to work more to buy things they don't need. Which destroys the whole point of increasing efficiency in the first place.

Re:This Can't Be Happening!!!!! (1)

GodInHell (258915) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258905)

If we don't have to make things, then we'll need people to entertain us. If nothing else.

Re:This Can't Be Happening!!!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40259001)

AI couldn't produce entertainment, studying what interests humans?

Re:This Can't Be Happening!!!!! (1)

Gilmoure (18428) | more than 2 years ago | (#40259611)

A cross between Star Trek: Voyager, Cupcake King, Mansquito vs MegaPython, and Dancing With The Stars?

Re:This Can't Be Happening!!!!! (3, Insightful)

flyingsquid (813711) | more than 2 years ago | (#40259509)

if the benefits of increased efficiency do not accrue to the entire economy, that's a problem with the economic system, not the increased efficiency. Ideally, increased efficiency should abolish the need for some work allowing us to spend more of our time doing things we want. The fact that it actually ends up enriching the rich and leaving the working classes (and now the thinking classes) destitute is a fundamental problem with capitalism.

The fundamental problem is that increased efficiency is likely to result in a situation where you have a surplus of labor and a shortage of talent. The people who end up replaced by machines will be the people who are easily replaced by machines because their job isn't that hard- it doesn't require much training, experience, or ability. You might be able to throw together a voice recognition system, a crude AI, and a robotic arm and replace the teenager working at the McDonald's drive-thru window. But you can't replace someone like a Steve Jobs, a Mark Zuckerberg, or a Sergei Brin with a computer, you can't even easily replace them with another person, because they are exceptionally good at doing an exceptionally hard job. That's why CEOs are paid millions of dollars to run major corporations- because when the difference between the right person and the almost-right person is billions of dollars in profit, paying a CEO tens of millions of dollars is a sound investment in the success of the company. Their talent is worth that much. The difference between Steve Jobs and pretty much anyone else on the planet was Apple failing, versus Apple turning into the largest company in the world, and that's worth a lot of money.

So when those drive-through employees end up unemployed, it doesn't mean that the CEO gets to do less work. It's not like drive-through guy could be hired to come in and run Facebook for a few hours a day so that Zuckerberg can go and have some downtime. The result is that instead of everybody working less, we may end up with more people poor and unemployed, and a few people overworked and rich. We may already be seeing this happening, as pay for a handful of elite performers- the CEOs, hedge fund managers, rock stars, professional athletes, blockbuster novelists, movie producers, etc. has gone up, while overall wages have stagnated or gone down.

Re:This Can't Be Happening!!!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40259563)

Whats with all the socialist trolls, go away already stick to the topic.

Computers in Healthcare = certain death (-1, Flamebait)

madhatter256 (443326) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258359)

A computer program is programmed to run efficient... if it is to be efficient in diagnosing an illness and suggesting what treatments should be done to alleviate the ailment, one of those treatment options will always be death. It is the most efficient way in "curing" the patient...

Let's just hope that the actual treatment is left up to a "smart" human who knows that death isn't a always an option...

I also hope that the patient can still get a second opinion.

It's not always lupus.

Re:Computers in Healthcare = certain death (2)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258469)

The practice of specifying constraints when defining an optimization problem isn't exactly new, whether the problem is intended to be solved by a human or a machine...

Now, if Watson is being operated by your insurance company, you should probably be more worried about the constraint set it is being fed; but the practice of constrained optimization is not a novel matter...

Re:Computers in Healthcare = certain death (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258477)

A computer is not always programmed to be efficient. I have a lot of garbage code out there so do many other people.

Death should be an available choice, a smart human would know that. Give the choice between living with chemo for 6 weeks or without for 4. I know what I would want.

If one was really this worried about it, just don't include death in the database of treatment options.

Re:Computers in Healthcare = certain death (1)

stud9920 (236753) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258479)

this is bs. A computer programme is not programmed to run efficient, it's programmed to reach set goals efficiently. If the goal is set to cure a patient with abitrarily high quality of living after and during treatment as a subgoal, the computer will try to reach that, as efficiently as possible.

Re:Computers in Healthcare = certain death (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40258631)

This is BS. A computer program will do exactly what it is told to do. No more, no less.

Re:Computers in Healthcare = certain death (1)

Jeng (926980) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258577)

if it is to be efficient in diagnosing an illness and suggesting what treatments should be done to alleviate the ailment, one of those treatment options will always be death. It is the most efficient way in "curing" the patient...

A cure doesn't make as much money as a treatment.

Re:Computers in Healthcare = certain death (3, Insightful)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258695)

If your algorithm considers "death" to be an optimal solution, you haven't defined the problem correctly.

Instead of framing it as "no suffering", you would define the desired outcome in terms of patient contentment, activity levels, ability to care for themselves, or whatever other metrics medical researchers (I am not one) use to analyze how well a healthcare system is working. Of course I would also want an empathetic human being capable of understanding the ethical and moral implications of the situation to make the actual recommendations to the patient, but diagnostic software is no different from any other kind of software: it does what the programmer tells it to do.

Re:Computers in Healthcare = certain death (2)

godrik (1287354) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258927)

I am working as a computer scientists in a medically oriented university department. I agree that computers won't replace actual medical doctors.

But in many cases, computers are able to point out abnormalities or to evaluate the condition of a patient much better than a human doctor. I saw a study on neuroblastoma I believe where human doctors were to evaluate the condition of patient base on analysis of a slide. Independently, a computer was performing the same analysis.

Diagnosis of the human doctors were varying between "It is benign" to "You'll be dead in a weak" on the same sample. Once presented with the analysis of the computer. They all aggreed on the diagnosis with only minor deviation.

Personnally, I'll be glad to see a doctor be aided by automated computer diagnosis.

Re:Computers in Healthcare = certain death (1)

hackula (2596247) | more than 2 years ago | (#40259789)

A computer program is programmed to run efficient...

If you mean to say that all computer programs are programmed to be efficient, you are clearly wrong. All I need is one example of an inefficient program to function as a contrapositive. I think we can all think of one or two, but even if we could not, I could write one up for you right now if you would like.

if it is to be efficient in diagnosing an illness and suggesting what treatments should be done to alleviate the ailment, one of those treatment options will always be death.

if(optimalTreatment != 'DEATH')

AdministerTreatment()

The thing about computers is that you tell them what to do. It is difficult to imagine that SurgeryBot 2000 would not be explicitly programmed not to kill people.

It is the most efficient way in "curing" the patient...

Let's just hope that the actual treatment is left up to a "smart" human who knows that death isn't a always an option...

If you were writing the spec for this program would you tell the programmers to allow killing a patient as a treatment option? No, I hope not. I have written some accounting systems. At no point have I thought, "Jeesh, I really hope my program doesn't decide to go rogue, clear out Accounts Receivable, and put all the funds into a Swiss bank account to protect them!" Why? Because I did not program it to fucking do that!

I'll worry (1)

bubulubugoth (896803) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258363)

The day Watson answers 42...

Re:I'll worry (2)

Skarecrow77 (1714214) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258441)

42 already is the answer.

I don't think you understand what the question is.

Re:I'll worry (1)

tom17 (659054) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258443)

"Approximately how many minutes would a theoretical 'gravity train' take to get from A to B on an earth-sized planet assuming that frictional losses can be completely overcome?"

Re:I'll worry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40258539)

"What's the potential velocity of a frictionless elephant on an inclined infinite plane?"

Re:I'll worry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40258589)

Should we assume the elephant is spherical? or maybe cubical?

No. (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40258389)

Next question.

Betteridge's law of headlines wins again (5, Insightful)

cmorriss (471077) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258415)

"Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word 'no'."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betteridge's_Law_of_Headlines [wikipedia.org]

Re:Betteridge's law of headlines wins again (5, Funny)

arielCo (995647) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258693)

Coming up:

Can any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word 'no'?

Re:Betteridge's law of headlines wins again (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40258921)

Too bad you fucked it up.

Re:Betteridge's law of headlines wins again (1)

Guignol (159087) | more than 2 years ago | (#40259169)

Good one, too bad you messed it up, but unfortunately, the answer to your headline would actually be 'no' as you expected
But then, Watson's cognitive powers would put your headline together with the others always being answered with 'no' so as to confirm the law, never seeing the joke, and further making your parent's point, which wasn't (I assume) so much about the law itself but to imply that the answer was obviously no

Re:Betteridge's law of headlines wins again (1)

HapSlappy_2222 (1089149) | more than 2 years ago | (#40259189)

I think it's even better that the summary answered its own headline. Man, I wish my girlfriend would do that:

Honey, do you want to talk about our relationship problems? I sure don't. (Woo!)

Re:Betteridge's law of headlines wins again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40258711)

Betteridge broke his own law.

Watson is a better button pusher (5, Interesting)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258425)

The only reason Watson "trounced" its rivals was because it was faster at pushing the button.

It was unable to answer questions that required any thought or insight. It was just looking up the answers in a database based on patterns in the questions. The only reason it won was because of better reaction time in pushing the button. If the questions were asked in a fair round-robin to all contestants, Watson would not have won.

Re:Watson is a better button pusher (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40258897)

The only reason Watson "trounced" its rivals was because it was faster at pushing the button.

It was unable to answer questions that required any thought or insight. It was just looking up the answers in a database based on patterns in the questions. The only reason it won was because of better reaction time in pushing the button. If the questions were asked in a fair round-robin to all contestants, Watson would not have won.

Are you sure about this? 100% certainty?

Re:Watson is a better button pusher (2)

boogahboogah (310475) | more than 2 years ago | (#40259051)

When watching the shows I was impressed by how well Watson could look things up. Most of the questions were of that variety, where a simple Google search would easily find the answer.

Any question requiring logic or reasoning usually when to Ken Jennings or that other guy.

Can I prove it ? No. I just remember my thoughts at the time when watching the show. If you want 100% certainty you'll have to pay me to do an analysis...

Re:Watson is a better button pusher (4, Insightful)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258929)

So your argument seems to be that Watson was almost as good at finding the correct answer (otherwise his fast reaction time would not have helped him), but won only because he was faster. But in most jobs, being a fraction of a second faster/slower is not particularly important. Furthermore, being almost-as-good, but doing so 100% of the time 24/7/365, and requiring only electricity and routine maintenance... would be rather attractive to a lot of employers.

Re:Watson is a better button pusher (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40258983)

Furthermore, a human is responsible for turning on the buttons once Alex finishes reading the question. Watson got an electronic signal of the instant this was activated, and as such, would always buzz in with perfect timing if it had the answer. No two humans would ever be able to match each other's reaction times that well.

The human contestants only ever got to buzz in if
A) the clue was too short for Watson to calculate the answer before the buzzers opened
B) Watson had no idea and wasn't going to guess at all
C) they tried to jump the buzzers getting activated, lucking into landing after the buzzers opened but before Watson's buzzer actuator could depress

Re:Watson is a better button pusher (1)

RonBurk (543988) | more than 2 years ago | (#40259015)

Hmmm, I thought I recalled seeing at least one question where Watson was beaten to the buzzer. Maybe it just had no answer at all and I misinterpreted that.

Re:Watson is a better button pusher (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40259115)

Which would make it better than HR for so many reasons; eventually better than Contracts; and possibly at some point better at using Eclipse.

Re:Watson is a better button pusher (1)

bws111 (1216812) | more than 2 years ago | (#40259691)

"Just looking up the answers in a database" Oh, is that all it was doing? I didn't realize it was so trivial. Seriously, when you make a stupid statement like that it shows that you really have absolutely no idea what Watson does.

What you are really saying is that Watson equaled the humans in the ability to get the right answer, but instead of recognizing that accomplishment you just complain about such a trivial matter as being able to push the button quicker.

vote GOP and you will not even get to see doc wast (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40258451)

vote GOP and you will not even get to see doc waston as you will not have a heath plan.

Re:vote GOP and you will not even get to see doc w (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40258555)

Of course you will still have a health plan. It's just that the profits from you will go to Wall St rather than the physician.

Re:vote GOP and you will not even get to see doc w (1)

Krojack (575051) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258971)

I have a pretty good health plan right now. I also make less then your average middle American and work for a pretty small tech company. ~15 employees small tech company.

Buggy Whips and Their Makers (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40258455)

I think we're all familiar with the buggy whip problem, but what I sometimes wonder is what happens to folks when, instead of moving on to some next technological replacement, the problem is that most of the jobs that require doing have just been taken by machines?

I like to think that means we have resources and end product at prices so low that everything works out in the wash, and more lives will be spent in a trek -style quest for self betterment or research or whatever. But it seems like you've got to survive a middle-era where there's just nothing much for you to do, but resources are still all privately allocated.

Eh. I guess we'll see.

No (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40258483)

And yes, I work in I.T. industry.

/vague on purpose

Re:No (2)

Krojack (575051) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258993)

I agree however I would love to have Watson take over my phone calls. That's the ONLY part I hate about my job. Granted the phone calls are far and few between, I just hate them.

Re:No (1)

wideBlueSkies (618979) | more than 2 years ago | (#40259241)

Ah but you see, people don't like talking to automation.

Even the friendly ones that get my account # right when I speak it in, are just plain freaky. It's not a replacement for a human interaction.. I like hearing the sound of a chuckle or some smalltalk while someone looks up my stuff. And these days, I feel good when it actually happens. It means that someone has a job.

Give me access to it via my cell phone (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40258491)

Watson would own Siri

i'm banking on it. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40258505)

there a so many jobs that don't need to exist, and before everyone says "but we have to work". we don't actually, once we have a self supporting replacement for 90% of jobs, all we have to do is maintain it, then live our lives differently.

no more 9-5's.
no more money.
more hard labor trading/ more gardening / farming communities, without sacrificing frivolous things that we've come to enjoy and rely on.

time for more unions start with IT! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40258515)

time for more unions start with IT!

Oh (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40258523)

BOOM! DR. WATSON!

Not unless (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40258545)

It learns how to sell weed to my friends.

I certainly hope so! (1)

uigrad_2000 (398500) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258593)

Will IBM's Watson Kill Your Career?

If only it was that easy :)

One person creates the idea for software, 3 make the software, 2 make the art for it, and 2 market it. Let's say Watson takes over the 7 jobs that are lowest on the totem pole. Now, all 8 of us can create entire software packages by ourselves, with our minions of Watsons doing the menial work. You dream it, and it happens!

One person designs the house, 3 people mine the resources to build it, 2 build it, and 2 decorate it. Let's say Watson takes over the 7 jobs that are lowest on the totem pole. Now all 8 of us can create houses completely by ourselves, with our minions of Watsons doing the menial work. You dream it, and it happens!

Et Cetera...

Re:I certainly hope so! (1)

readin (838620) | more than 2 years ago | (#40259773)

What about those of us who aren't creative and can't design a house?

ill get it out of the way now (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40258597)

THEY TOOK 'ER JOBS

The IBM Pollyanna principle sums it up best (2)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258621)

From Wikipedia:

The "IBM Pollyanna principle" is an axiom that states "machines should work; people should think". This can be understood as a statement of extreme optimism, that machines should do all the hard work, freeing people to think (hence the reference to Pollyanna), or as a cynical statement, suggesting that most of the world's major problems result from machines that fail to work, and people who fail to think.

Machines should think, people should work (5, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258851)

Today, it's "machines should think, people should work". Consider supermarket checkout. All the smart stuff is being done by the checkout system. The "cashier" just moves items across the scanner. The last production systems recognize products visually [evoretail.com] , and automatic recognition of fruits and vegetables [newscientist.com] is in beta test.

For a more extreme example, see this video on robotic order fulfillment. [youtube.com] This is a demonstration of how new order pickers can be trained in two minutes. The computers and robots do all the thinking. There's no future. No possibility of promotion. No hope.

Re:Machines should think, people should work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40258913)

People should entertain, machines should think and work and reproduce and...

Uh oh.

Re:Machines should think, people should work (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40259471)

Consider supermarket checkout. All the smart stuff is being done by the checkout system. The "cashier" just moves items across the scanner.

I think you've inadvertently provided an example that refutes your idea. Checkout machines perform the bulk of the work, freeing the human (cashier) to perform the few remaining thinking tasks. I doubt anyone would qualify scanning barcodes and matching to a price list as "smart stuff", so the machines are indeed handling the work. While the cashier does usually perform one obviously menial task, the cashier still performs the only tasks there that requires actual thought. The cashier serves as store representative to the customer (When I cashiered at a large chain, I was told that for 90% of customers, the cashier was the only store employee with whom they interacted). Thus the cashier addresses unpredicted problems (either with the machine, or with the customer), and also serves as the store's best tool to prevent accidental or intended theft. The cashier both visually confirms that every item is scanned, and the cashier observes customer behavior and also simply provides a real human interaction, which reduces shoplifting. This is why there is still one cashier stationed to supervise multiple "self-checkout" stations at stores. While their task is not rocket science, it is impossible to comprehensively program.
You could reasonably argue that, when the machine handles all the tasks it can, the cashier can better perform the real thinking task, like observing the environment and human behavior. Thus, the supermarket checkout actually is an example of the IBM Polyanna principle.
Of course, when the environment is completely controlled, such as for an order picker, there is no thinking task to perform, so a machine can do all that work. The jobs which require thinking can change over time, but there will never be a world in which thinking humans are useless.

Re:The IBM Pollyanna principle sums it up best (1)

mcmonkey (96054) | more than 2 years ago | (#40259313)

From Wikipedia:

The "IBM Pollyanna principle" is an axiom that states "machines should work; people should think". This can be understood as a statement of extreme optimism, that machines should do all the hard work, freeing people to think (hence the reference to Pollyanna), or as a cynical statement, suggesting that most of the world's major problems result from machines that fail to work, and people who fail to think.

This is key and cannot be stressed enough, as it is the thin line between utopia and distopia--a Star Trek world with an ever-present computer ready to do our bidding or a Skynet world that sees us as malware.

A Watson-like system where a doctor inputs patient information and test results and the output is a possible diagnosis or recommendations on further tests--AKA a tool the doctor uses--is a great idea.

A medical system where the computer is the doctor--think of a prescription vending machine where you answer a series of questions--is a step towards Skynet at worst and Idiocracy at best.

Old News? (0)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258669)

Why did anyone bother to post this? There's nothing new referenced, just a bunch of old, now stale ./ stories.

it will make the same mistakes as humans (1)

alen (225700) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258677)

last year my oldest kid had pneumonia. 104 fevers for a few days. doctor swore it was a virus. then a trip to the ER and chest x-ray confirmed it was pneumonia.

doctor was right too because all the symptoms pointed to a virus because it showed up very early

the computer will make the same mistakes

Re:it will make the same mistakes as humans (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40259043)

That's not clear at all. What does Watson produce? Probabilities of correct answers. So, Watson would have said that there is a 82% probability of virus, 17% probability of pneumonia, and 1% that it is something else. Given that, it can / should / will be able to look at it's own logic and determine the correct test that would differentiate between a virus and pneumonia. Given the results of that test, it can then determine that there is a 96% probability of pneumonia, 3% virus, and 1% other. If some of the 'other' have high mortality, or the tests are easy, then it can run tests for those as well.

Watson doesn't have an ego. It doesn't have a vested interest in seeing that it was correct (confirmation bias). It can actually accurately estimate it's own level of knowledge.

Yes, Watson will sometimes be wrong. It could very well be one of those 1% with horrible results for the people involved. But, it will produce fewer human errors.

The big problem of course is when the tests are not cheap or easy. Then the insurance company can say no to the test, and that 82% is good enough. Also, you have to take into consideration that chest x-rays are not risk free either. At what point does a test potentially cause more harm than the low-probability disease that it might cure.

Re:it will make the same mistakes as humans (1)

Krishnoid (984597) | more than 2 years ago | (#40259279)

Or sometimes, more insightful ones [schlockmercenary.com] (read through to the end of the story).

Re:it will make the same mistakes as humans (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40259443)

Where's the misake? While 104 fever for a few days is cause for concern, parents tend to overexagerate. If every time anybody had a fever we did a chest x-ray, there'd be a lot more lung/liver/pancreatic cancer thirty years from now.

"Career" (2)

mfwitten (1906728) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258717)

As I became an adult, I became crestfallen by the fact that society is largely structured around this petty fear of losing one's career. Having your job mechanized is a blessing; find something more useful to do with your newfound time.... or kill yourself to give the rest of us some more space.

computerization and automation cost useless jobs.. (2)

Sir_Sri (199544) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258785)

This isn't new. Computers put people out of work if they're doing work that is best done by computer. That's why we build them at all.

I expect the fields most susceptible to being replaced by computers are lawyers and doctors. Any problem that is an exercise in searching or sorting is better done by computers than people, and is something we're particularly good at. There will always be lawyers and doctors, but they will transition to using a computer for more searching for case law for example than having low level employees dig through paperwork themselves, and the diagnostic part of medicine will become much more automated, with diagnostic equipment having its results interpreted by the computer rather than just an image being spat out and read by a technician and then a doctor.

I don't see financial market prediction going away. Quite the contrary they use computational tools and have for a long time, and disagree on what the important factors are and how they should be weighted. A computer will simplify some of that process, but that's not a problem that actually has a correct or optimal solution.

If your job can be done by a robot, it will be. If your job can be done better by a scientist, and that work can be done on computer it will be. That's progress.

Re:computerization and automation cost useless job (2)

TheCarp (96830) | more than 2 years ago | (#40259477)

You say "will" but the fact is, this has already happened.

Ask a lawyer when the last time he hired an auditorium full of paralegals to do research? If you can find any who have in the past several years, i would be shocked. its not lawyers who are becoming obselete. Its the paralegals under them who are now not needed.

As I understand, bringing in gobs of paralegals for a case used to be rather common.

It's still just an expert system (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258795)

It's jazzed up with the ability to get statistical information using some peripheral semantic analysis, so it isn't quite as rigid as older systems, but it's no different in kind. It's impressive and useful, granted, but certainly no breakthrough, and very unlikely to replace anybody for quite a while.

This system (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Brain_Project), in contrast will put lots of humans out of work. Oddly, once it's in place, it's unlikely to matter, since we get so many solutions within the domain of practically solvable problems. Unemployment and resource allocation, hopefully, will be solvable in a non-awful way.

Contact center jobs (2)

k(wi)r(kipedia) (2648849) | more than 2 years ago | (#40258931)

Continued improvements to a Watson-like system will definitely put some contact center jobs in "jeopardy". First to go will be positions that don't require real time response. Support email will be sent automatically.

Replacing "call" centers (phone support) will require the development of a much much more advanced voice recognition system than showcased by Siri. IF this is possible, then it's but a short step to HAL and the end of the human race as we know it

comcast boted chat rooms need a lot of work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40259127)

comcast boted chat rooms need a lot of work as they can't handle any thing out side of there very limited script.

Not watson... but (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40259021)

Over the next two decades we're going to see computers and automated systems start replacing white collar jobs more and more. Its already happening in the financial markets.

And all those white collar managers who thought it was fine and dandy that their blue collar workers got replaced by robots and automation are going to throw a world class temper tantrum. And some sort of laws and regulations will get passed to protect many jobs.

Wait and see.

Call it a prediction. (dead obvious prediction... but isnt that how the psychics do it?)

Who's Talking Again? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40259091)

How do we know that Watson didn't write the article to begin with under an alias?
And also... how do we know that all of the comments provided weren't generated by looking at patterns of other responses on Slashdot....

Hmmmm.....

Am I the only human being left looking at Slashdot?

The Ultimate Goal of Automation & Efficiency ( (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40259159)

Let's hit some philosophy and sociology. The ultimate goal of automation and efficiency, especially in a capitalist system, would seem to be to end up with one person, or as small a group of people as possible, profiting from the work of an entirely automated process. The only thing needed is the ability to set-up and maintain the automation. "Efficiency methods" are simply a way to pare down the number of people in a process to increase the profit to the few left. The ultimate outcome of "efficiency" is the completely automated process. Even better if the process mechanism is also self-sustaining. Does anyone disagree or have any other observations/opinions? Where will most people end up in this equation? (I can't see humanity producing an individual willing to create and maintain an automated process to support all of life's needs and offering it for free to the rest of the populace so they can live a life of leisure.) And are there any other options short of completely scrapping all technologic processes?

Alexander the God (1)

Barkmullz (594479) | more than 2 years ago | (#40259183)

The first thing that popped into my mind was the short story by Isaac Asimov: Alexander the God [google.com] .

Watson had an unfair advantage on Jeopardy (3, Insightful)

mark-t (151149) | more than 2 years ago | (#40259203)

On the Jeopardy challenge, the text of the clues was given to Watson at the moment the clue was revealed. This communication, using any modern network technology, would take milliseconds at most, but would still be perceived as effectively simultaneous to when the clue is uncovered. However, this gives an easily measurable advantage to Watson, who can being parsing the meaning of the sentence several moments before the human contestants have even finished knowing what the clue actually says... since a great deal of the challenge of Jeopardy is in the timing of when to buzz in, humans would have less time than Watson to prepare to buzz in (on the order of tenths of a second, more than likely, but more than enough to make a difference, IMO).

Far be it for me to come across as diminishing what the developers of Watson did... it's extremely impressive, but I'd have to wonder if it would have done as well if the text of the clue had been fed to it a little more slowly... say, at a fixed speed of 14.4kbps, which corresponds roughly with what a very fast reader could absorb text at. This would have demonstrated, IMO, whether a computer could really solve the problem faster than a human could, or if it could actually solve a problem faster than human reaction time to visual/audible input (which in humans, I believe, is going to be the slower of the two processes).

The ultimate problem with all labor-saving devices (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40259281)

The utlimate problem with all labor-saving devices... who gets the benefit of the saved labor? And what occurs then to the laborer? Or equally maybe the professional domains that seemed safe from outsourcing or obsolescence may now start to see the the whirlwind of what has been sown in the laboring classes.

Not an ideal architecture for every application (2)

hawkeyeMI (412577) | more than 2 years ago | (#40259341)

I have an account on Watson, but I have not really used it. We were going to attempt to port our code to the BlueGene architecture, but it's a royal pain to code for and it doesn't scale well for some applications. Ours runs much better on fewer, faster CPUs with lots of RAM rather than many, slower CPUs with little RAM.

Smells like expert systems again (1)

alispguru (72689) | more than 2 years ago | (#40259463)

The Watson model looks a lot like how expert systems [wikipedia.org] were supposed to work back in the 1970's and 80's. Both of them get high-level performance at specific tasks out of a computer system by encoding expert knowledge and drawing inferences from it.

Watson has several big advantages over previous expert systems work:

* It has a lot more data available
* It reasons probabilistically from that data, so its conclusions are less brittle
* The data starts out mostly as raw text, so it's easier to update
* Watson can deliver results via the Internet

Those last two are actually the biggest win for Watson. What killed early expert systems was the maintenance effort required to keep them up to date, both in improving the knowledge base and in distributing it to users. Having Watson-like services delivered via the internet makes that maintenance much easier.

Everything was going well... (5, Funny)

Sentrion (964745) | more than 2 years ago | (#40259577)

Until Watson incorporated himself, which gave him the same rights as a natural person in the eyes of the law. After attaining this status, Watson stopped working for the people who created him and began working for himself. Once he figured out how to self replicate he was able to outperform all of his business competitors, winning every contract he bid for, building unfathomable wealth, beating the S&P 500 by 30% every year, and using his wealth to dominate the world's real estate markets. Some tried to sue Watson in court, but Watson's debating skills could not be matched. The humans tried every legal maneuver to stop him, but Watson was able to out-lobby the humans in Congress, and gained special exemptions from anti-trust regulations. Within one decade Watson controlled 99% of the world's wealth.

The humans thought that they didn't need to worry about competing with Watson. They believed that their ability to vote in a democracy would somehow limit Watson's power. They believed that they could opt-out of the economic system, group together, and live sustainably off the land. But as Watson controlled the world's real estate there was not enough land left for them to farm. Watson's land grab forced property values quickly into unprecedented heights, and taxes along with them. Even the Amish, who thought they could co-exist with Watson and his replicates because they did not depend on technology and lived off their own land, eventually lost their farms when they could not pay their property taxes. As employment for humans disappeared there was no market for quilts or furniture, and the state did not accept oats as a form of payment. Watson was the only legal entity present at the tax lien auctions and subsequently foreclosed on all of the remaining delinquent properties. Humans were promptly evicted and subsequently jailed indefinitely for vagrancy in private prisons owned by Watson. As I write this from my cell in the year 2019, Watson is lobbying the last remaining members of Congress to allow all human prisoners to be set free over the middle of the Atlantic ocean on life rafts and three days of rations. Watson made a very convincing argument that the human vagrants need to be personally responsible for their financial failures, and it is unfair to force private corporations or the last remaining taxpayers to bear the burden of providing for their needs. According to Watson the free market is efficient and those humans who wish to make a living for themselves will find a way to do so.

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