TITLE: What are Java, C++, and Prolog? AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: February 24, 2011 4:17 PM DESC: ----- BODY: That's the correct question for the clue, "The languages used to write Watson", courtesy of the IBM Watson team answering questions in the usual way on Reddit. I'm looking forward to learning more about how Watson operates at the software level, especially how it handles the uncertainty of multiple knowledge sources working in parallel on imprecise data. I meet with prospective students and their parents frequently as part of on- and off-campus recruiting events. Last week and this are Up Close Days on campus, when students who have been admitted to the university but not yet accepted the offer visit in hopes of making their decision. I usually try to use part of our time together to help them see what computer science is and what graduates of our program can do, because so few of either the students or parents have any idea. With the match on my mind for teaching and research, it occurred to me that the timing of the match offered a perfect opportunity. Here was a story that everyone had heard about, the kind that captures the attention of even the least technically minded among us: a battle of man versus machine in an arena that has historical been ours alone. Watson is not only a triumph of computer science; it covers the full spectrum of what we do, from racks of servers and an open-source operating system, through algorithms and data structures and programs that embody them, to the dreams of artificial intelligence and the promise of applications that help people all over the world. So I built a short presentation around the match, showing short clips from the show, offering commentary at key moments, taking wide-eyed questions at any time, and tying what the program was doing to what computer science is and what computer science graduates do. Last week's first session went very well. If nothing else, all of our visitors could see my excitement at what we do and what remains to be done. Sharing the thrill, indeed! Yesterday, Lance Fortnow tweeted:
Asked: What is Computer Science? Answered: Everything that happens after you ask a question to Google until you get a result.
I don't know what all the future implications of Watson's performance will be for AI, CS, or the world. I do know that, for now, the match has given us a compelling way to talk to others about computer science ripped right from the headlines and our TV screens. When we can connect our story to something like Google, we have a chance of helping others to get what we do. When the story connects to something that has already excited our audience, our job is perhaps a little bit easier. -----