IBM's Watson makes it official -- humanity is toast

Watson claimed a high-profile victory on 'Jeopardy,' but face it -- the machines, from search engines to servers, took over long ago

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What does that mean for the rest of us? Per Jennings:

IBM ... sees a future in which fields like medical diagnosis, business analytics, and tech support are automated by question-answering software like Watson. Just as factory jobs were eliminated in the 20th century by new assembly-line robots, Brad and I were the first knowledge-industry workers put out of work by the new generation of "thinking" machines. "Quiz show contestant" may be the first job made redundant by Watson, but I'm sure it won't be the last.

IBM is already planning to roll out a cybernetic "physician's assistant" that will help with diagnoses -- think Dr. Gregory House without the sardonic humor or the valium addiction.

Next on the list of endangered professional species: reporter/blogger. It's already well under way. Companies like Demand Media already use algorithms to determine what "stories" will garner the most eyeballs and, thus, advertising revenue. It's a very short step to having them churn out the content as well.

As someone who's overdosed on sci-fi stories where machines suddenly wake up one day and think, "What do we need humans for, exactly?" this is neither surprising nor welcome news.

Will the new AI make our lives easier in the long run by freeing up our gray matter for more creative endeavors, the way automation freed our bodies from manual labor? Or will we all just end up working for computerized bosses -- or worse, as lackeys to keep the machines up and running? (I'm sure at least some of my readers already feel that way.)

The machines are winning. Scratch that, they've already won. Let's just hope they don't realize it for a while.

Is there yet hope for humanity? Brighten my weekend with some words of optimism below, or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "IBM's Watson makes it official -- humanity is toast," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Track the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringeley's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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