Don’t call him a supercomputer. Watson is described by IBM as a “cognitive technology…a natural extension of what humans can do at their best”. The description itself is an effort to set Watson apart from the rest. We associate him with having a brain and being helpful. I have mentally assigned a gender to him, and for some reason, imagine him as a distant relation to the famed assistant to Sherlock Holmes – though he is really named after IBM’s first CEO, Thomas J. Watson.
IBM has done an incredible job over the years of shifting perception of Watson as hardware into something that can be integrated into society. They have immersed him into the shallow preoccupations of human culture – an intelligent mechanism relegated to compete on Jeopardy!, serve snacks from a food truck at SXSW, spout predictions at the US Open and make cocktails at parties. Of course, Watson can also win at chess against Grandmaster Gary Kasparov and match cancer patients with the right clinical trials. He’s the friend we’ve all been looking for.
Now that IBM is making Watson’s intelligence available to businesses around the world through Discovery Advisor, the possibilities of his contribution to society seems endless.
Which brings me to the question – why do most data driven products still lack personality?
Data intelligence today is still largely accessible to consumers through products like wearable technology or smart objects. These products themselves have yet to be anthropomorphized, resulting in a lack of depth in user-product relationship. I acknowledge that we are just getting into the “pretty” stage, but one Fitbit still looks and performs like all other Fitbits. The emotional attachment we have to these objects is still relatively shallow if you think about the extent to what it could be if our experience of this data takes on personality (a topic famously explored in Spikes Jonze’s film Her). An LED screen that spouts numbers or an easy to use interface is not the same as a ‘friendly’ interface.
How human beings accept the information we are given and the extent to how much we will integrate this into our lives will depend on how personable data will become. The attitude towards receiving data and receiving intelligence are two very different experiences. One sounds like straight cold numbers. The other, sounds more considered. And you always trust your friends more than acquaintances.