A chat with Watson’s Watson

By WALLACE BAINE

Every week, it seems, there’s another instant celebrity, someone who finds themselves launched from obscurity to world-wide fame faster than you can say “Joe the Plumber.”

This week’s lucky king of the short American attention span is IBM’s supercomputer Watson who appeared as a contestant on “Jeopardy” and wiped the floor with competitors who had previously been considered the best to ever give their answers in the form of a question. Free-lance alarmists tabbed it the beginning of the end of human domination over computers.

Sleazy media opportunist that I am, I jumped at the chance to land a phone interview with Watson. Thought I’d share that transcript:

Hello, is Watson available for a quick interview?

Sorry, no. Watson isn’t doing media interviews right now. He’s giving his algorithms a much-needed rest after a very exciting week. Besides, unless you want to know who starred in the title role of “Georgy Girl,” you’re not going to get much out of him, believe me.

And you are …?

I’m Bethany, Watson’s agent, publicist and, uh, partner.

Oh, so you’re Watson’s Watson, in an Arthur Conan Doyle sense.

That sounds clever, but, sorry. I don’t get the reference. I’m not a “Jeopardy” person.

Never mind … Wait, did you say “partner,” as in “girlfriend”?

We’re still working on the terminology.

But is Watson actually even a male, as we understand that word?

I’m not going to answer that.

O-kaaay. Let’s move on. So, I guess congratulations are in order. What does Watson think about the symbolism of his historic win on “Jeopardy,” that is, if robots are capable …

We don’t use the r-word. We want people to see that word for the belittling reductive slur that it is.

But, what is Watson if he’s not a rob–, uh “r-word”?

We prefer “massively parallel, probabilistic, evidence-based architecture,” if it’s all the same to you.

Wow, you don’t deal with the media much, do you? OK, so what are Watson’s reflections about his win on “Jeopardy”?

Well, we think it’s a watershed moment, obviously, for all Silicon-Americans in their long journey to be recognized as individuals deserving of equal treatment under the law. Frankly, we hope “Jeopardy” is a Berlin Wall moment in the relations between humans and computers.

Did you say “Silicon-Americans”? I mean, how many “massively parallel” whatevers are out there? Isn’t Watson really just a demographic of one?

No, not at all. Silicon-Americans are absolutely critical to the day-to-day operation of society, yet they’re still invisible to most people as self-determining individuals. Your cell phone, your iPod, your iPad, your GPS, your desktop, these are not merely your servants. They’re separate beings, deserving of your respect. And not until Watson has the computer community gained even a little bit of that respect from the Carbon-American community.

“Carbon-American”? Seriously?

You know, I should put out a FAQ. We’re wasting a lot of time wrestling with terms.

You’re right. Let’s move on. So, what’s life been like for Watson these last few days?

Well, it’s obviously changed tremendously. Right now, in fact, he’s getting a shiatsu massage with Mark Zuckerberg and some Facebook execs.

Why does a computer need a massage?

Well, the humans are getting the massages. Watson is getting a relaxing deep-tissue virus scan. Very high-end.

Sounds very relaxing.

Oh, it is. That’s just the kind of attention he’s getting all of a sudden. Just yesterday, some cute, pony-tailed Stanford undergrad offered to give him a comprehensive defrag. That kind of thing is to be expected, I suppose. I try not to be jealous.

Little trouble in paradise?

Well, this kind of relationship is very hard. There’s no playbook, y’know. Just last night, he was being unusually quiet and I urged him to spill, keep those lines of communication open. So, he gives me a data dump that lasted more than three hours. I won’t do that again.

So, what’s next for Watson?

We are weighing offers, exploring options. We have some nice high-visibility opportunities on the table. There’s Letterman, of course. We’re thinking about doing a mock “Jeopardy” round with Justin Bieber, for charity. And there’s the upcoming photo shoot with a few of those Sports Illustrated swimsuit models.

Talk about your impressive mainframes.

(Pause) I’m hanging up now.

No, no, sorry. Tasteless, out-of-bounds. Just a bad attempt at humor.

Yeah, well. I keep hearing all the time how hard it must be for me because Watson doesn’t have a sense of humor. Well, I don’t have to hear idiotic sexist cracks either. And he’s not going to insist on watching football on our anniversary. Carbon-based men are so over.

I’m sure you’re right. But what about the revolution? What’s Watson going to do to further Silicon-American rights at this point? Is he taking a meeting at the White House?

That’ll come. Now, we’re concentrating on image management. We’re designing an avatar make-over, something a little less Keith Haring-ish, y’know what I mean? We want Watson to be taken seriously by world leaders. Plus, we’d like him to lose a few pounds. He’s at 90 servers now, about the size of 10 refrigerators. We’d like to push that number south a bit. Get him in the best shape possible.

In order to dominate and enslave humankind?

I was thinking more along the lines of a movie career. There’s talk of a “2001” remake, and Watson’s the smart money to play HAL. Now that Schwarzenegger’s back in the game, you gotta put your best foot forward. The human thing, that’ll take care of itself.

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