In case you missed Jeopardy or didn’t hear about it on the news, Watson is not only the first computer champion of Jeopardy, he (a term I use loosely) is also what I believe is one of the biggest games changers in the education field since the internet. Watson essentially is Ask Jeeves but younger, faster, smarter, and better looking. Watson can actually…wait for it…answer questions. This means that instead of getting a list of links from a search engine, a search engine powered with the same technology as Watson could actually answer your most burning questions with near human-like response.
Ask Watson “How many total Olympic gold medals has the United States won?” and he would respond with text stating that “The United States has won 937 total Olympic gold medals.”
Okay, so it is not the cure for cancer but this sort of technological breakthrough can and should change the way we approach education. I see Watson impacting two areas of education; assessment and learning/performance support. Watson, I think, will force instructional designers and educators to focus on processes, critical thinking, and subjective forms of assessment since mere answers will now be at the fingertips of students who are generally connected 24-7.
Thus, instead of providing the right answer to a question, students will need to explain how and why they selected that answer. With that said, if we embrace Watson, we can also use him to help students get the help they need. Instead of searching a static database of common questions or the F.A.Q. section of a course website, students could get answers to their specific questions. Ultimately, Watson could be one of the smartest virtual teaching assistants a student could have!
Check out what Watson can do: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/06/16/magazine/watson-trivia-game.html
Excerpt From the New York Times:
“For the last three years, I.B.M. scientists have been developing what they expect will be the world’s most advanced “question answering” machine, able to understand a question posed in everyday human elocution — “natural language,” as computer scientists call it — and respond with a precise, factual answer. In other words, it must do more than what search engines like Google and Bing do, which is merely point to a document where you might find the answer. It has to pluck out the correct answer itself. Technologists have long regarded this sort of artificial intelligence as a holy grail, because it would allow machines to converse more naturally with people, letting us ask questions instead of typing keywords. Software firms and university scientists have produced question-answering systems for years, but these have mostly been limited to simply phrased questions. Nobody ever tackled “Jeopardy!” because experts assumed that even for the latest artificial intelligence, the game was simply too hard: the clues are too puzzling and allusive, and the breadth of trivia is too wide.” Read Full Article
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