The essence of being human involves asking questions…

“The essence of being human involves asking questions, not answering them”

It’s the final  end quote from on Artificial Intelligence and Intelligent Assistance (unrelated to my company) that comes out of a NYT writeup of IBM’s Jeopardy playing Watson.

I’m very interested in the subject of Artificial Intelligence and (naturally) and Intelligent Assistance, because ultimately it will affect how we produce – more mundane tasks will be handed to a computer to automate, leaving creativity for the human editor. (We’ve had three approaches for custom automation in the last two weeks, so there’s definitely interest there.)

The whole article is worth a read if the subject interests you (and it should) but here’s a taste:

That, however, was before machines began to “understand” human language. Rapid progress in natural language processing is beginning to lead to a new wave of automation that promises to transform areas of the economy that have until now been untouched by technological change.

“As designers of tools and products and technologies we should think more about these issues,” said Pattie Maes, a computer scientist at the M.I.T.Media Lab. Not only do designers face ethical issues, she argues, but increasingly as skills that were once exclusively human are simulated by machines, their designers are faced with the challenge of rethinking what it means to be human.

I.B.M.’s executives have said they intend to commercialize Watson to provide a new class of question-answering systems in business, education and medicine. The repercussions of such technology are unknown, but it is possible, for example, to envision systems that replace not only human experts, but hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs throughout the economy and around the globe. Virtually any job that now involves answering questions and conducting commercial transactions by telephone will soon be at risk. It is only necessary to consider how quickly A.T.M.’s displaced human bank tellers to have an idea of what could happen.

There’s an article at the LA TImes Blog that talks about what the next steps are beyond Watson.