Are we comfortable with machines being smarter and faster than us?  All machines start out at least as smart as the person who built them, but then what happens when their mechanized learning and capacity to think beings to outweigh and outgrow their human captors?

Watson’s devastating win on Jeopardy! over two human competitors give us great pause for thinking about the nature of these machines we create to do out thinking for us.  Will these machines ever be free thinking?  Will they have consciousness of life and death and eternity?  Will they want to evolve without us?

Do we really want Watson-like machines making life and death decisions for us in the doctor’s office?

Additionally, Columbia University Medical Center and the University of Maryland School of Medicine are contributing their medical expertise and research to the collaborative effort. For example, physicians at Columbia University are helping identify critical issues in the practice of medicine where the Watson technology may be able to contribute, and physicians at the University of Maryland are working to identify the best way that a technology like Watson could interact with medical practitioners to provide the maximum assistance.

Watson’s ability to analyze the meaning and context of human language, and quickly process information to find precise answers can assist decision makers, such as physicians and nurses, unlock important knowledge and facts buried within huge volumes of information, and offer answers they may not have considered to help validate their own ideas or hypotheses.

Forget Death Panels — when we have a wall of Watsons staring us down as we beg for a replacement liver — we’ll all be shaking in our white blood cells and wishing for a return to socialized medicine run by compassionate human beings.

Yes, I’m a little creeped out that a machine like Watson can so resoundingly win at Jeopardy! — just the same way I was a little creeped out at the rise of the personal calculator taking away the ability of many students to perform simple math skills.

Once you have convenience, you never return to capacity.

Do we want to rule our future, or do we prefer to have our futures perpetuated upon us by the very machines we built to make our lives easier — and not more redundant and less forlorn?


  1. David,

    My reading of the text tells me that the machine is there to offer ideas, not to pass down judgement — solutions and alternatives, not death.

    …offer answers they may not have considered to help validate their own ideas or hypotheses.

    …and to me that means that they are not considered the primary provider of answers, merely an assistant to the human who will make the ultimate choice.

    1. Yes, that may be true for now, but what about next year? 10 years? We are required to think ahead on this. Where do we draw the line between function and domination? With each convenience we give up more of our learned knowledge and with that loss comes the diminution of our power as people and atrophy of the wondering mind.

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