Recently the venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya, founder, and CEO of Social Capital created a huge stir by calling IBM’s Watson a joke.  Frankly, as a computer scientist that is focused on ‘real’ Artificial Intelligence (AI) I am not able to really disagree but I think some context might help people understand the issue.  Certainly ‘Watson’ is a real tool doing real work and uses machine learning but it’s no AI and IBM and companies like it are created a misperception in the market.  It is probably not true that its a joke but it is manipulating market perception with a falsehood.

So what did he say specifically?

“Watson is a joke, just to be completely honest,” Palihapitiya said. “I think what IBM is excellent at is using their sales and marketing infrastructure to convince people who have asymmetrically less knowledge to pay for something.”

So yes, the comment is a bit callous to those that might be emotionally vested in Watson and imply that  Watson is not useful or a good thing but if we look at the last part of the comment we can see what Palihapitiya is really getting at.  It’s the ‘marketing’ that is created a misperception.

Watson is NOT an artificial intelligence.  It can not nor ever will decide on its own to do X, it is not self-aware and not self-motivated.  Yes, it uses machine learning and is a great example of a ‘smart system’ but the perception of what Artificial Intelligence ‘is’ is not what Watson is.

IBM’s marketing team like many other companies are playing off the market perception of the term to drive their own business needs in the short run but they risk creating a backlash against AI and further in doing that could damage real AI research by getting people afraid of it in the long run to cause problems for those of us actually doing real AI or AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) research.

Stop listening to these marketing teams talking about AI and realize that this stuff is not nor will ever by AI.  It’s just some fancy machine learning algorithms…