You may remember that back in the mid 1990s IBM created a computer system, called Deep Blue, that challenged Grand Master Gary Kasparov at chess. Although initially unsuccessful eventually Deep Blue beat Kasparov. This was a great achievement but there was no other use for the program; Deep Blue could play excellent chess but that was all. It couldn't be repurposed to any other task. Essentially Deep Blue was a dead end. So in 2011 when IBM set itself another challenge to develop a computer system, called Watson, to answer questions on the quiz show Jeopardy they already had future uses in mind. Watson was intended to answer questions in any domain where there might be a large body of written knowledge such as medicine or the law. The Wall St Journal recently reported on an interesting use of Watson as an online teaching assistant, called Jill Watson, at Georgia Tech. "Online learning has opened the door for instructors to reach a gigantic, global audience. Trouble is, many students can ask a lot of questions, burdening human TAs, said Ashok Goel, a professor of computer science at Georgia Tech. It was he who recruited Jill Watson for his Knowledge-Based Artificial Intelligence class." Perhaps the most interesting thing about this is that many students assumed Jill Watson was a person. Has the Turing Test been passed?
Thanks to my colleague, Mark Wilson, for bringing this story to my attention.