Thursday, February 17, 2011


The most anticipated Jeopardy! match ever is already over, with Watson, the IBM supercomputer, vastly dominating the two best human players this game show has ever seen. How superior was Watson over his human counterparts? Well, let's just say that the two-day combined results of second place winner Ken Jennings ($24,000) couldn't hold a candle on Watson's worst day alone ($32,734 on the first of the two-day event; $77,147 total).

The whole event and its outcome has prompted an array of historical and cultural references among the internet and media community, most of them alluding to the 'human-vs-machine' aspect of the event. And while it's not hard to look at it and notice a resemblance to the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Terminator series, and even the folkloric battle between John Henry and the steam-powered hammer, my mind instead wanders more curiously into the behavorial intricacies of Watson. How would Watson be like if he/it was human? What professional career would he like to pursue? Would he be fat or in shape? Would he be into chicks? Would chicks dig him? The more I watched this machine compete against humans, the more it becomes a question of 'who does this machine remind me of', rather than 'what it does remind me of'.

There are certain charasteristics in Watson's avatar that were intentionally created by the IBM designers to mimic human responses (approximately 27 reaction states, according to this IBM video). These reactions range from showing a lot of confidence, to showing a lot of doubt, from showing happines for getting a question right, to dissapointment when getting it wrong. Obviously, Watson almost never showed any other "feeling" other than high confidence in its answers and happiness for getting them right, which made me think that if a human were to show these kind of "emotions" after crushing his competition, nobody would find them endearing, but rather straight up arrogant. This aspect of Watson reminded me of the Mark Zuckerberg character played by Jesse Einberg in The Social Network, especially on that opening scene of the movie, when he's letting his date know how intellectually inferior she is when compared to him.

I brought up the subject to my buddy Miguel Adrover, who's never short of original ideas himself. I told him that, just like Zuckerberg, his arrogant trait mixed with his intelligence and competitive nature would probably lead him to have poor social skills, but would also make him very successful career-wise. Yet, unlike Zuckerberg, he wouldn't necessarily be a nerd (I originally likened him to a Tony Stark kind of person).

"Watson would be a nihilistic Bertrand Russell". Oh yeah, I forgot to mention. Miguel is a very smart dude who's getting a Master's degree in education. He could be a Jeopardy! champion himself. Who the hell is Bertrand Russell??? What is 'nihilistic'??? I won't lie. I had to look it up. And as I found out, he was right. He ended the discussion too easily.

For those of you who don't know, Bertrand Russell was a Literature Nobel Prize winner, better known for the considerable influence of his work on logic, mathematics, set theory, linguistics, and philosophy, especially philosophy of language, epistemology, and metaphysics. If that's not right up Watson's alley, then I don't know what is. But c'mon, Miguel!! You are ruining the fun. You are going to tell me Watson would be a pessimistic mathematician and philosopher if he was human? What about my Mark Zuckerberg cyborg?

Bertrand Russell
"He would be nihilistic, but that does not mean the personification of Watson, the computer, would be lacking some sort of esthetic sensibilities. He would have no choice but to create. I guess he could be a college professor, he could be in creative advertisement, he could even be Steve Jobs. He would think of endeavors as his art. Debauchery would be his middle name. Now, ¿what kind of academic background would this dude have? A Mark Zuckerberg cyborg is a refreshing perspective. But I've been imagining our Watson-Man as an older dude... I guess our character could be Mark Zuckerberg, without the geekiness."

I agree. I mean, we don't necessarily have to dub Watson as a human with robot-like personality just because we are deriving the hypothetical scenario from a computer who talks like a robot. If he were to be human, we can all agree that he would have some trouble establishing relationships with other people, but it would be due to it's inability to empathize with less privileged minds. The fact that this imaginary human we are talking about is inspired from a talking computer, is irrelevant for the purposes of personality discussion.

As to wether Watson would be an older man, I never thought of it, but I guess Miguel could be right. After all, the real-life Watson computer is extremely cautious when playing Jeopardy!, and caution is a rare trait among younger people because of it's direct correlation with the amount of experiences lived.

From there on, our conversation dug deeper into our imaginations. I never found out if he was a ladies' man, but I learned that Miguel's version of a human Watson is a skilled mimic and a perennial Man-Child eager to impress and please, always searching for paternalistic approval. But, still, he will always be lonely.

"He will, best case scenario, be an unintentional smart-ass, worst case, an asshole and a cynic. Either way, not very good with people, thus we have a possibly misanthropic asshole, or a nerd", Miguel said.

Personally, the more I think about it, the more I think he would be the cocky overachieving prick that would make you hate yourself because you kind of like the kid. If he would be in Star Trek, he would be the young version of Spock. He would probably be a big-time lawyer, or the next President. And what would be his first mandate? To make Toronto a U.S. city, of course.

For more picking from Miguel's mind, visit