Vocabulary, My Dear Watson

If you can beat Ken Jennings at Jeopardy, there isn’t much you can’t do. Except maybe use the phrase “going commandtoe” (wearing shoes without socks) or “police Navidad” (when the cops are called on a ragin’ Christmas party) in a sentence properly. Just ask Watson, IBM’s artificial intelligence. His programmers taught him a new set of words from the ultimate slang archive, Urban Dictionary. ‘Cause that’s totes how we talk in 2013! However, Watson’s memory had to be quickly modified, because he took things too far.

Watson can answer most any question you can think of: what’s the capital of Uzbekistan? Is there a difference between baking powder and baking soda? Do bears have whiskers? But as smart as Watson is, he’s all business. Cat videos don’t make him smile like they do the rest of us. He’s got the formal language down pat, but he lacks the informal language that comprises true human communication. So, his programmers decided to socialize him with some of today’s newer words.

Turns out, artificial intelligence doesn’t know when it’s being offensive. If you’ve ever browsed Urban Dictionary, you know there are some pretty crude words defined on the site. Watson may have the brain to integrate the new set of words into his vocabulary, but he doesn’t have the heart to know if he’s being disrespectful. The team removed the Urban Dictionary words from his memory, and added a profanity filter for good measure.

Wouldn’t it be nice to just pick up something new that easily? To have it installed in us, seamlessly added to our everyday vernacular? Please, IBM, teach me how to speak French, and also how to cook more than just chicken for dinner. Just knock me out and microchip me, because SKILLS.

What’s next for Watson? We should feed him posts from HelloGiggles to warm his robot heart. Or posts from The Onion, just to confuse him. And we should probably teach him French, too. You know, so I can practice with someone.

Urban Dictionary can be fun, if used the right way. Terms like “nerdist colony” and “selfie” are awesome additions to our vocabulary. But we know how to use them, because we understand their implications. As incredible as Watson is, he’ll never be the learners we are – he’s just a thinker.

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