Jan 10, 2012

Posted in Harlan/Siri

On building IBM’s Watson

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For the scientist in me, it was an irresistible challenge. I believed it was a rare opportunity to counter conventional wisdom and advance technology. I was willing to live with possible failure as a downside, but was the team?

A few people were extremely hesitant to join the project and later left, thinking that the whole enterprise was insane. But a majority bought in. We eventually pulled together a core group of 12 talented scientists, which over time grew to 25 members. It was a proud moment, frankly, just to have the courage as a team to move forward.

From the first, it was clear that we would have to change the culture of how scientists work. Watson was destined to be a hybrid system. It required experts in diverse disciplines: computational linguistics, natural language processing, machine learning, information retrieval and game theory, to name a few.

Likewise, the scientists would have to reject an ego-driven perspective and embrace the distributed intelligence that the project demanded. Some were still looking for that silver bullet that they might find all by themselves. But that represented the antithesis of how we would ultimately succeed. We learned to depend on a philosophy that embraced multiple tracks, each contributing relatively small increments to the success of the project.

It was a team effort!

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