You might be wondering what the Jeopardy-playing, foul-mouthed supercomputer Watson has been up to lately. It seems the AI has turned over a new leaf, it’s gone from celebrating linguistic vulgarities to helping Africa solve some of its biggest problems.
This new $100 million project is called Lucy, named after the earliest human fossil found in Ethiopia in 1974, and will last approximately 10 years. IBM thinks that Watson can use his super powers (i.e. his artificial but mighty intelligence) to help solve some widespread and difficult issues, such as improving agriculture, education, and health in the region. That sounds awesome, but does that mean IBM has never set Watson to any of these tasks before? Why not try it out on some smaller-scope issues, such as the Affordable Care Act website?
Watson should be able to crunch and cross-reference serious data, such as analyzing weather patterns to offer predictions and advice for farming. Similar data-mining systems are currently in use in Morocco and Australia, incorporating information about weather patterns, consumer demand, crop performance, and diseases to make assessments and recommendations about growing crops. Also, the language gap isn’t really a problem for him (ah, the inevitability of personification). IBM’s chief scientist in Africa believes Watson could be paradigm-shifting, and that it could do for the continent what mobile banking has done for finance. You can see virtualization and mobile technology really opening up possibilities for education and healthcare with devices like the “eye-phone.” Even schools that don’t currently have computers could use smartphones or other devices to access Watson’s system.
Given that one of Watson’s strengths is reasoning, people will be able to ask it not just data-driven questions, but how and why questions as well. Someone could ask for the best route from one area to another, taking into account data on the road systems, as well as traffic measurements. A Lagos delivery firm is using the system for such advice in an effort to improve its service. Watson could shed light on why nearly 25% of the world’s cervical cancer cases are in sub-Saharan Africa, and what people might be able to do to mitigate that trend. Experts believe that access to such information could help boost the region’s growing economy.
Apparently, ever since smacking down opponents on Jeopardy, Watson has been taking it easy. Over the past three years, Watson has only earned IBM $100 million (slacker!). The company has likely realized that Watson is more of a cash cow than that, and will soon be creating a business unit for it. And then Google will try to buy it and Ray Kurzweil can upload his consciousness into the system and then it’ll truly kick some ass.