As the world is constantly advancing and improving, many people wonder when the old fantasies of artificial intelligence will come into fruition. The rapid rise of machine learning and connectivity around the world has brought exponential progress towards this seemingly impossible idea. As headlines flood the news, such as ”Google’s DeepMind AI beats the top Go player in the world,” it becomes harder to deny how close we are to making that final jump from machines to artificial intelligence. However, an AI giant that could most change the course of history is already among us.

One of the largest computer manufacturers in the United States is responsible. International Business Machines, or IBM, has created an artificial intelligence capable of aiding companies with simple and complex tasks. They call it Watson, and it is a system that works from finance to retail to the medical field (4). Companies all around the world are using this product from IBM to enhance their companies. For example, General Motors is planning to use Watson to improve their mobile driving platform OnStar Go in helping drivers avoid traffic when low on gas or to automatically order and pay for coffee before the driver arrives at the coffee shop. Even doctors have used this program to diagnose patients with rare forms of leukemia (2). But how is that possible? How can a single system have so much potential? These questions only grow in importance as we head into the inevitable future of AI.

What distinguishes Watson from other smart programs is that it is able to effectively evaluate incomplete or small amounts of data. Traditional machines that “learn” often require massive amounts of data, usually ranging in the hundreds of thousands or even millions. Programs like those use artificial neural networks to find trends in these large amounts of quantitative data and are then able to make accurate predictions using complex calculus (5). When faced with small amounts of data, however, the results are often inaccurate or outright wrong. That is where Watson comes in. According to The Era of Cognitive Systems: An Inside Look at IBM Watson and How it Works, Watson uses a combination of natural language processing, hypothesis generation and evaluation, and dynamic learning (3). On their own, these types of computational techniques are nothing spectacular. The combination of them is what makes Watson so advanced. Approximately 80% of the world today consists of unstructured data, making simple AI, such as artificial neural networks, practically useless. Watson is no basic Siri or Alexa. In fact, Watson was able to win against Jeopardy’s greatest champions (1). This program definitely means business.

How does Watson work? Well, when Watson is tasked with a problem or question, it first picks apart all of the possible interpretations and decomposes the question. Then, it generates a hypothesis and hundreds of different answers. It goes through a rigorous process of collecting thousands of pieces of evidence to support its hypothesis. Watson gets all of this information from its “knowledge corpus”, which consists of unstructured data, ranging from textbooks and news to FAQs and blogs. All of the gathered evidence and the hypothesis is then scored. Those scores are scrutinized by the system in a deep analysis, where it synthesizes a final response that is a balance and combination of everything it evaluated. Finally, Watson completes its final merging and outputs a response with a corresponding confidence (3). All of this happens in a matter of seconds! Not only that, but after each iteration of Watson, it learns, adapts, and adjusts accordingly. Because of the success of Watson and its growing presence across all industries, it will serve as a model for the future of artificial intelligence in our world today. Understanding language is the first-step to understanding the intricacies of the human mind. Less than a hundred years ago, nobody would have thought that a machine would be capable of something so complex as language. As a result, we can only ask ourselves, what is the limit of our efforts towards the future of AI?


  1. Best, Jo. “IBM Watson: The inside Story of How the Jeopardy-Winning Supercomputer Was Born, and What It Wants to Do Next.” TechRepublic, www.techrepublic.com/article/ibm-watson-the-inside-story-of-how-the-jeopardy-winning-supercomputer-was-born-and-what-it-wants-to-do-next/.
  2. Gaudin, Sharon. “IBM: In 5 Years, Watson A.I. Will Be behind Your Every Decision.” Computerworld, Computerworld, 27 Oct. 2016, www.computerworld.com/article/3135852/artificial-intelligence/ibm-in-5-years-watson-ai-will-be-behind-your-every-decision.html.
  3. High, Rob. “IBM Redbooks.” IBM Redbooks®, 30 Sept. 2016, www.redbooks.ibm.com/abstracts/redp4955.html.
  4. IBM. “What Is Watson.” IBM Cognitive Advantage Reports, IBM Corporation, 15 Oct. 2017, www.ibm.com/watson/about/.
  5. Zhang, Zhihua. “Artificial Neural Network.” SpringerLink, Springer, Dordrecht, 1 Jan. 1970, link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-67340-0_1.

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