Google and IBM: Me Too Marketing or a Coincidence?

October 15, 2018

I noted this article: “Google AI Researchers Find Strange New Reason to Play Jeopardy.” What caught my attention was the introduction of the TV game show which featured IBM Watson stomping mere humans in a competition. I dismissed the human versus machine as a Madison Avenue ad confection. IBM wanted to convince the folks in West Virginia and rural Kentucky that Watson smart software was bigger than college basketball.

I think it worked. It allowed me to crank out write ups poking fun at the cognitive computing assertion, the IBM billion dollar revenue target, and the assorted craziness of IBM’s ever escalating assertions about the efficacy of Watson. I even pointed out that humans had to figure out the content used to “train” Watson and then fiddle with digital knobs and levers to get the accuracy up to snuff. The behind the scenes work was hidden from the Madison Avenue creatives; the focus was on the sizzle, not the preparatory work in the knowledge abattoir.

The Googlers have apparently discovered Jeopardy. I learned that Google uses Jeopardy to inform its smart software about reformulating questions. Here’s a passage I highlighted:

Active Question Answering,” or Active QA, as the TensorFlow package is called, will reformulate a given English-language question into multiple different re-wordings, and find the variant that does best at retrieving an answer from a database.

I am not going to slog through the history of query parsing. The task is an important one, and in my opinion, without providing precise indexing such as “company type” and other quite precise terms, queries go off base. The elimination of explicit Boolean has put the burden on query processors figuring out what humans mea when they type a query using the word “terminal” for instance. Is it a computer terminal or is it a bus terminal. No indexing? Well, smart software which looks up data in a dynamic table will do the job in a fine, fine way. What if one wants to locate a white house? Is it the DC residence of the president or is it the term for Benjamin Moore house paint when one does not know 2126-70?

Well, Google has embraced Jeopardy to make its smart software smarter and ignore the cost, time, and knowledge work of creating controlled term lists, assigning and verifying index accuracy, and fine grained indexing to deal with the vagaries of language.

So, Google seems to have hit upon the idea of channeling IBM Watson.

But I recalled seeing this article: “Google AI Can Spot Advanced Breast Cancer More Effectively Than Humans.” That reminded me of IBM Watson’s message carpet bombing about the efficacy of Big Blue cancer fighting. The only problem was that articles like “IBM Pitched Its Watson Supercomputer As a Revolution in Cancer Care. It’s Nowhere Close” Continue to Appear.”

Is Google channeling IBM’s marketing?

My hypothesis is that Google is either consciously or unconsciously tilling an already prepped field for marketing touch points. IBM did Jeopardy; Google does Jeopardy with the question understanding twist. IBM did cancer; Google does a specific type of cancer better than humans and, obviously, better than IBM Watson.

So what? My thought is that Google is shifting its marketing gears. In the process, the Google-dozer is dragging its sheep’s’ foot roller across the landscape slowly recovering from IBM’s marketing blitzes.

Will this work?

Hey, Google, like Amazon, wants to be the 21st century IBM. Who knows? I thank both companies for giving me some new fodder for my real live goats which can walk away from behemoth smart machines reworking the information landscape.

Here’s a thought? Google is more like IBM than it realizes.

Stephen E Arnold, October 15, 2018

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