IBM Watson to the Rescue of Truth: Facts? Not Necessary

November 7, 2019

Could IBM Watson Fix Facebook’s ‘Truth Problem’?” stopped me in my daily quest for truth, justice, and the American way of technology. The write up dangles some clickbait in front of the Web indexing crawlers. Once stopped by IBM Watson, Facebook, and Truth, the indexers indexed but I read the story.

I printed it out and grabbed by trusty yellow highlighter. I like yellow because it reminds me of an approach which combines some sensational hooks with a bit of American marketing.

For instance this passage warranted a small checkmark:

Facebook is between a rock and a hard place because “the truth” is often subjective, where what is true to one party is equally false to the other.

I like the word subjective, and I marveled at the turn of phrase in this fresh wordsmithing: “between a rock and a hard place.” Okay, a dilemma or a situation created when a company does what it can to generate revenue while fending off those who would probe into its ethical depths.

This statement warranted a yellow rectangle:

Since Facebook itself is perceived as being biased (or perhaps the news sources it hosts are), a solution from them would be suspect regardless of whether it was AI-based or, assuming such a thing was financially viable (which I doubt it is), human-driven.  But IBM may have a solution that could work here.

Yes, a hypothetical: IBM Watson, a somewhat disappointing display of the once proud giant’s Big Blueness, is a collection of software, methods, training processes, and unfulfilled promises by avid IBM marketers. I grant that a bright person or perhaps a legion of wizards laboring under the pressures of an academic overlord or a government COTAR possibly, maybe, or ought to be able to build a system to recognize content which is “false.” Defining the truth certainly seems possible with time, money, and the “right” people. But can IBM Watson or any of today’s smart software and wizards pull off this modest task? If the solution were available, wouldn’t it be in demand, deployed, and detailed. TV programs, streaming video, tweets, and other information objects could be identified, classified, and filtered. Easy, right?

I then used my yellow marker to underline words, place a rectangle around the following text, and I added an exclamation point for good measure. Here’s the passage:

IBM also has the most advanced, scalable, deployable AI in the market with Watson. They recognized the opportunity to have an enterprise-class AI long before anyone else, and they have demonstrated human-like competence both with Jeopardy and with a debate against a live professional debater a few years ago.  I attended that debate and was impressed that Watson not only was better with the facts, it was better with humor. It lost the debate, but it was arguably the audience’s favorite.

Yes, assertions without facts, no data, no outputs, no nothing. Just “has the most advanced, scalable, deployable AI in the market.” The only hitch in this somewhat over-the-top generalization is, “It [Watson] lost the debate.”

But what warranted the exclamation mark was “it [IBM Watson] was better with humor.” Yep, smart software has a sense of humor at IBM.

This write up raises several questions. I will bring these up with my team at lunch today:

  1. Why are publications like Datamation running ads in the form of text? Perhaps, like Google Ads, a tiny label could be affixed so I can avoid blatant PR.
  2. Why is IBM insisting it has technology that “could” do something. I had a grade school teacher named Miss Bray who repeated endlessly, “Avoid woulda, coulda, shoulda.” What IBM could do is irrelevant. What IBM is doing is more important. Talking about technology is not the same as applying it and generating revenue growth, sustainable revenue, and customers who cannot stop yammering about how wonder a product or service is. For example, I hear a great deal about Amazon. I don’t here much about IBM.
  3. What is the “truth” in this write up. IBM Watson won Jeopardy. (TV shows do post production.) I am not convinced that the investment IBM made in setting up Watson to “win” returned more than plain old fashioned advertising. The reality is that the “truth” of this write up is very Facebook like.

To sum up, clicks and PR are more important than data, verifiable case examples, and financial reports. IBM, are you listening? Right, IBM is busy in court and working to put lipstick on its financials. IBM marketers, are you listening? Right, you don’t listen, but you send invoices I assume. Datamation, are there real stories you will cover which are not recycled collateral and unsupported assertions? Right, you don’t care either it seems. You ran this story which darn near exhausted by yellow marker’s ink.

Stephen E Arnold, November 7, 2019


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