IBM Watson has hit a chord. You can see it in how the press behaves at an event such as IBM Pulse, which ends today. In the press event yesterday, several in the international press asked about Watson, its uses and why it's not a search engine.
Steve Mills runs IBM's massive software group. He fielded questions and reiterated what he had said in the keynote earlier that day at the IBM Pulse event. He said the world is getting more complex and computers don't get tired. They don't complain. You can yell at them and they won't yell back - or quit for that matter.
That says what Watson represents. That's part of what makes it appealing. But it's more than that. It also points to what we see in it about ourselves.
In an interview yesterday, I asked Mills why Watson commands such popularity. He cited Jeopardy's popularity as a game that has been around for decades. It has an entertainment factor. People know Watson is a human achievement. They saw the computer compete and it won. The computer seemed to understand things. It was fed data. It captured people's imagination about what computers will do in the future.
And then he said this:
"Our great grandparents worked by hand. They then moved into plants. They built using machines. Today, the computer can be an assistant with enormous amounts of knowledge that no one can have in their heads. The computer comes up with the answer."
It's true. The computer won but people also see Watson as an extension of their own intelligence - that is showing itself in revealing ways.
Yesterday, a group of congressmen took on Watson.
That shows the level of interest Watson has attained in our society. Watson has gone to Washington. It's becoming a metaphor for the future.
On a more collaborative level, the World Community Grid project has increased 700% since Watson won the Jeopardy competition.
That's a big jump for the project which provides its public computing grid for scientific research. People donate their unused computer capacity to the World Community Grid, which makes those resources available for public and not-for-profit organizations to use for projects that benefit humanity.
It's an initiative of the IBM International Foundation. It serves as a virtual super computer that has been used for scientific purposes such as for HIV/AIDS and cancer research as well as water purification.
According to HPC Wire, "it pools the unused power of 1.7 million personal computers from 535,000 volunteers in more than 80 countries. It then makes this computational power available for scientists who might not otherwise be able to afford the high speed computing they require for timely research."
People are fascinated by Watson. I find it comparable to interest in the cloud. Watson represents this potential for endless knowledge. There is a similar wonder about the endless space that can be explored through cloud computing.