This semester, a know-it-all supercomputer is heading to school. Watson, the supercomputer that made a name for itself after it trounced all its human competitors on Jeopardy! last year, is "enrolling" at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
IBM, Watson's developer, hopes that students and faculty at the institute will push the computer to expand its capabilities, boosting its mathematical computational powers and broadening its language skills. Dr. Shirley Jackson, president of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, explains that the newest personality on campus isn’t entirely new to them: "You can think of Watson as a legacy student, since so many Rensselaer alums had a big role in creating Watson, both on the software — the cognitive side — and the hardware."
Students are excited about their new classmate — even inviting Watson to pledge at the Phi Kappa Theta fraternity. While it’s still unclear if Watson will 'go greek,' it is expected that he will engage frequently with students and faculty in an effort to extend his artificial intelligence and cognitive association abilities.
Watson's unprecedented collaboration with Rensselaer raises questions about the future of funding for technology research during a time of government budget woes. Many, including Jackson, believe that the United States’ economy and prosperity are tied to the scientific discoveries and technological innovations that government funded research produces. "The Obama administration does get it, in terms of the importance of basic research," contends Jackson. "The difficulty is with the austere times we are in. How does that play against what the Congress is willing to do?”
Dr. Shirley Jackson, president of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.