IBM gets Watson to sound like Stephen Hawking

When the robots finally and mercifully take us over, there will be much cheering by people in several areas of Techworld.

Well, in the areas where humans are still alive, of course.

The question that has always bothered me, though, is what our robot overlords will sound like. Will they sound the way Hollywood has often portrayed them — as machines that have been taught to speak by a computer program? Or will they take on Scarlett Johansson’s voice in an attempt to endear?

In some ways, the most advanced and threatening computer currently out there is Watson. IBM’s vast electronic brain has already proved how clever he is by wiping the floor with the humans on “Jeopardy.”

Since then, IBM has tried to make us all feel a touch more secure about Watson’s prowess. The company has dedicated him to humanitarian work.

In new ads launched this week, Watson shows just how helpful he wants to be to our decrepit civilization.

In one, he says he’s “helping doctors to keep people healthy.” We see one example. He’s called Ted. Watson keeps track of every single vital statistic belonging to Ted’s being. Watson wants Ted to not eat so much ice cream, but he’s tolerant. Robots do, indeed, have tolerance programmed into them.

What’s moving for me (I’m not sure in which direction) is that Watson sounds distinctly — to my ears, at least — like Stephen Hawking. The syllabic inflections have that British-Transatlantic hybrid thing going on. It’s all a little familiar, all a little like Hawking’s Intel-based vocal projections.

Is this another touch to make us feel that Watson is really one of us?

In another ad, Watson is learning how to speak dog in order to help vets. He’s learning all sorts of things, in fact. It’s a terribly clever ruse to make this superrobot not seem like our future ruler.

“I’m Watson and I’m ready to work with you,” says the thing itself at the end.

Ah, that phrase “work with.” It sounds so much better than “work for.” As in: “Oh, humans. Give me all your knowledge and you’ll be working for me.”

For some, this would be Nirvana. I prefer to think of it as HAL -ellujah.


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