IBM's Watson on Jeopardy! Blurring the Line between Humans and Technology

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2 Responses

  1. jeffdowd says:

    First, I can’t help but point out that my congressional representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) beat Watson on Jeopardy!

    Technological advances create change and change can be unsettling. Or at least that is how most Americans like to dismiss anxiety around rapid technological change. Hollywood, in comparison has not been so calm. On the big screen when machines get smart enough their first decision is usually to enslave or destroy humanity. Still, despite the warnings from action movies, few Americans reject technology. There is no visible anti-tech movement possibly because Americans see technological advancement as an unstoppable force of nature.

    The problem with these depictions is that they assume a unidirectional casual model when it comes to change and technology. Here, technological advance comes out of nowhere or like some libertarian fantasy is willed from the depth of the soul of the heroic inventor. Then technology takes on a life of its own so to speak and changes our world. While technological advances have certainly changed the way we live in unintended ways. We can’t fully understand technology change is we disconnect it from the societal changes in which it is always embedded. In other words, the public would greatly benefit from a sociological imagination when it comes to technological change.

  2. jeffdowd says:

    one more quick comment:

    The other day I was returning something to a chain store at the mall. I was past the allotted time for returns but was hoping I could still get a refund. So, I explained my situation, my excuse for tardiness and appealed to the clerk for a reprieve. She responded, “well, let’s see what the computer says.”
    I think we have a tendency to misread this interaction as a sign that we have ceded our decision making to machines. But that’s not really the case, the clerk was essentially a bureaucrat in a hierarchy which has deskilled her position and deprived it of any meaningful (or arbitrary) power. This may be simply a function of modernity and a highly specialized division of labor – but I think deskilling may also be a result of the imbalance of power between labor and capital. The rise of a deskilled and ultimately interchangeable low-wage workforce is like the form of technological change is a political creation.

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