My buddy Lee knows a thing or two about machine learning and I still have his flipchart in my trunk, but I never really bothered to read it and figure it out. It uses terms that I don't understand and am not familiar with. Today, suddenly, I am more interested in machine learning than I was yesterday and now I'm taking the opportunity to write about it. This is a form of learning.
Watson is the computer that just beat Ken Jennings and the other dude in a game of Jeopardy. I watched the final last night and was quite impressed. As well, my understanding of computing gave me some idea of which answers Watson might get and which it might not. I remember quite clearly that when it came to short lists of answers that required a question, Watson did poorly and the human contestants did well. The category was Actors who Direct, and an answer was 'The Great Debaters'. I knew the question without looking at the second answer, it was 'Who is Denzel Washington'.
What struck me there was that there are 'top of mind' questions that we can answer very quickly when it's trendy to know these. They are hot narratives and we all *feel* that it's important to know them whether or not the subject matter itself is important. The fact that I never liked and therefore never watched "I Love Lucy" strikes my wife as odd. I cannot for the life of me recognize a Taylor Swift song or distinguish it from a Katy Perry song - something my teenaged daughter can do in a heartbeat.
When I come across a problem in designing a computer solution, I use a narrative form. I do the same thing when I try to get to the root of understanding something complex. I block and tackle, I mark decision points, but most importantly (I think) I invent new terms. These terms stand in a larger philosophical framework and are references. Let me give some examples.
The first of these terms that come to mind is 'Boohabian Hate Crime Standard'. This is something more than a 'tag'. It represents a time, a place, a context, a set of decisions and a framework for thinking about something complex. But it has a neat four word handle that stays just below my top of mind. I leave it to Google to search my own blog to get to that information. The second one is 'Sherwood Forest' which is an extended metaphor that I use to explain my theory of the lower and uneducated classes. There is also 'Gay Banana Split' which I use to explain what I believe to be the root of the controversy over gay marriage.
What I believe Watson may not have but needs is the ability to come up with narratives and terms that fit which can be made important and thus brought to top of mind. In the Nova documentary, something similar was one of the last minute tactics employed by the team to kick his performance up a notch. Watson was informed of the correct answers given by his opponents thereby forming an additional prioritized level of understanding in a category where he didn't get it.
The whole thing Watson does not do that we do is come up with our own learning strategies. Watson was fed everything and was not allowed to create his own narrative. He doesn't know that he's a Jeopardy machine and he doesn't know how to study. He knows how to search and remember and the programmers know what to teach and feed him.
What I would be interested to know are the ways in which Watson's programmers become aware of Watson's awareness in a metacapacity - above the level of the game itself. That's the interesting area.