I’ve always thought that the IBM Watson supercomputer was a very cool device indeed. In fact, I thought Watson was such an interesting machine that I even watched the episodes of Jeopardy where Watson was a contestant. I think it’s the only time I ever watched Jeopardy.
IBM researchers decided to try to teach Watson how to engage in small talk. Apparently, this is a way that scientists are able to gage if the computer can truly think. This boils down to something called the Turing test that determines if the computer is capable of carrying on natural conversation without giving itself a way. If the machine is capable of doing that, it can be considered intelligent. So far, no computer has accomplished the test.
A scientist at IBM named Eric Brown decided to try and help Watson learned more the nuances of human speech by helping it to understand the subtlety in a human conversation, especially slang. Two years ago, Brown decided to teach Watson slang by setting the machine loose on the Urban Dictionary. If you’ve ever ventured to the Urban Dictionary, you’ll know that it has definitions for things like OMG and hot mess among others.
The problem Brown found was that Watson was unable to distinguish between polite language and profanity. Apparently, the IBM researchers were particularly disturbed when Watson use the word “bullshit” in response to a question posed to it by a researcher. Ultimately, Brown and his team were forced to develop a filter to keep Watson from swearing and eventually purged the contents of the Urban Dictionary from the computer’s memory. I would absolutely watch Jeopardy every day if you never knew when Watson might proclaim “Suck it Trebek!”