Watson for President! ... Huh?

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print
Watson for President

IBM's Watson can't kiss babies or rattle off feel-good slogans, but there's now a movement afoot to have Watson run for president of the United States.

With each passing day, it's increasingly obvious that the only thing Democrats, Republicans and independents can agree on is that the entire political system is broken. Big money, robotic candidates, predictable speeches and a mind-bending array of bad sound bites have left just about everyone—except possibly the candidates—well, speechless.

On top of all this, the growing polarization of political parties—along with the extreme animosity and nastiness within parties—is contributing to further decay. Where all of this ends remains to be seen, but, at the very least, it's clear that we're not headed for a good place. Confidence and trust in the system are at all-time lows.

Enter IBM's Watson. It can't kiss babies or rattle off feel-good slogans. It's not even photogenic. But there's now a movement afoot to have Watson run for president of the United States. An independent group has even set up a Website, Watson for President.

The Watson 2016 Foundation states: "It is our belief that Watson's unique capabilities to assess information and make informed and transparent decisions define it as an ideal candidate for the job responsibilities required by the president."

Okay, the idea sounds entirely crazy … until you think about it for more than a nanosecond. The cognitive computing system can parse through facts, analyze important issues and deliver logical answers at a level no human is capable of achieving. It also offers a speech interface that delivers simple and straightforward interaction.

Humans, meanwhile, remain mired in emotional potholes and cognitive glitches that frequently lead to bad policies and sometimes lead to disastrous results.

According to the group, Watson supports ending homelessness, creating a single-payer health care system and providing a university education at no cost to students. It also favors shifting energy to solar, wind, hydroelectric, and wave farm; and significantly upgrading transportation systems and networks.

Rob High, the Watson technology lead, has said that the cognitive learning system is "inspired by how humans can reason through a problem—minus the emotional bias."

While IBM clearly does not support Watson running for president, the idea does raise an interesting question: As big data analytics, cognitive computing and machine learning help to shape medicine, education and business, can public policy be far behind?

I certainly don't expect to see a President Watson in the White House, but it is fun to think about. I wonder who would be the vice president. Siri? Cortana? Google Voice?

Seriously, though, in the not-too-distant future, we may see at least some important government decisions driven by computer logic. Could it be any worse than decisions made by humans who often are driven by ambition, ego and emotions—and sometimes display a blatant disregard for facts?

This article was originally published on 2016-03-04
Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).
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