Watson, Come Here. Pittsburgh Needs You.

In February, IBM’s supercomputer, nicknamed “Watson,” beat two humans in a three-day “Jeopardy” competition—and not just any humans: really smart people like Ken Jennings, the winningest contestant in the history of the show.

Just like a human, Watson activated the buzzer when he thought he knew the answer (er, question) and then provided the answer—or question, which is really the answer.

At the end of the three-day experiment, Watson reigned supreme, beating Jennings and another puny contestant by $50,000 each. What is pwnage, Alex?

We can either look at Watson and say, “Well, it’s only a matter of time before the computers rise up, run amok and take over the human race, leaving us waiting for our Neo to release us from the bonds of the Matrix.” Or we can look at Watson and say, “If you can’t beat him, use him.”

Perhaps Watson needs a higher calling beyond game shows. Maybe he could be put to use in Pittsburgh to solve some of our more stubborn, seemingly unsolvable problems.

Arbitrator Bias Detector: Surely, a computer that learned to understand the nuances of the English language (and uses 2,800 processor cores along with approximately 6 million logic rules) can be tweaked to detect small nuances of bias in the human beings who are arbitrating some of Pittsburgh’s labor disputes. One example would be the person who saw a dismissed police officer return to his job after he drunkenly (and angrily) shot a man in a case of mistaken identity.

Pretending for a moment that I know what processor cores are, Watson could be tweaked to detect bias—almost like a lie detector—and instantly eject from the chair any arbitrator found to be exhibiting bias behind a veil of neutrality.

Or we can go one step further and let Watson be the arbitrator. Incapable of showing bias, he would serve Pittsburgh like a modern-day King Solomon—except instead of telling people to chop their babies in half, he could cackle a computerized maniacal laugh whenever an attorney tried to argue that a violent criminal should remain a public servant.

Power Hitter for the Pittsburgh Pirates: Using smart-sounding words like “algorithms,” “processor cores” and “data,” Watson would be perfect as a mobilized cart that has a mechanical arm holding a bat. He’d bat 1.000 the entire season. And the best part: I checked and found nothing in the official rules of Major League Baseball that mandates MLB players must be human beings. What is a loophole, Alex?

While we’re at it, let’s teach Watson to pitch 150-mile-an-hour fastballs.

And while we’re at that, let’s all have a chuckle: Those times I joked that the Pirates would do better fielding a team of monkeys—well, that would’ve technically been within MLB rules.

Snow-Removal Equipment Optimizer: It’s no secret that the snow-removal process in Pittsburgh leaves a lot to be desired. Big problems exposed during the 2010 Snowmageddon still don’t seem to be completely rectified despite a new plan unveiled by city officials that’s supposed to ensure the city’s roads are treated and plowed in a fashion that is conducive to uninterrupted travel by citizens and emergency vehicles. The plan starts at Phase One, 1-3 inches of snow, and goes to Phase Four, end of days.

For Watson, it should be short work to take a look at a map of Pittsburgh’s roads, put them into his “brain” and spit out a fair, efficient system that, if followed, won’t have ’Burghers burning up the city’s 311 line like they’re trying to win front-row tickets to a Justin Bieber concert.

I’ll Take “Things that Don’t Die” for $800, Alex.: Two words, Watson: stinkbug annihilation. Watson may laugh in the face of puny humans frantically pressing a buzzer, but stinkbugs laugh in the face of the raging fire of the sun.

They drink Raid for breakfast. More indestructible than the cockroach and more silent (but deadly) than a ninja assassin, stinkbugs somehow managed to survive the Pittsburgh winter without a hint of retreat.

We humans are no match for them. That’s why we need Watson to use his “brain” to come up with the exact chemical mixture that will destroy them once and for all. What is Satan’s spawn, Alex?

And while Watson is at it, here are two more words: pigeon annihilation.

That’s just the beginning. If we really open our minds to the power of Watson, there’s no limit to his potential: Minimum Tunnel-Speed Enforcer. Pittsburghese Translator. Mayoral-Unit Locator. Wasteful-Spending Minimizer. Or (gasp!) Quarterback-Behavior Monitor.

Categories: From the Magazine, PittGirl