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Psych! Your teaching assistant is actually an IBM robot

Technically Incorrect: Georgia Institute of Technology students didn't realize that their TA, Jill Watson, was actually IBM's Watson.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


If only they could have seen Jill's face.

IBM/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

The problem with our education system might be the system part.

Where once education used to be a life experience, now it seems more like a business investment, there to guarantee you a certain job and a certain future lifestyle.

But if it's there to send young people along a conveyor belt, why do you need teachers? Human teachers at least.

I only reach for this philosophical question because I've learned that students at the Georgia Institute of Technology were recently fooled by one of their teaching assistants.

As The Wall Street Journal reports, Jill Watson seemed frightfully efficient. Frightfully human, too. After all, she used phrases in emails such as like "Yep!" and "All your base are belong to us."

I'm sorry, I made that last one up. It's clear, though, that many of the students had no idea that Jill was, in fact, a robot.

"I was flabbergasted," student Shreyas Vidyarthi told the Journal.

Jill didn't exude an excess of personality. However, as professor of computer science Ashok Goel told the Journal: "It's what you'd expect from a TA, somewhat serious and all about giving you the answer."

As her name might have suggested, Jill Watson is one of the Watson family that won "Jeopardy."

Yes, she's an IBM Watson and her analytics system was used by the Georgia Tech researchers to train her on the basis of 40,000 typical responses to teaching assistant questions.

Jill Watson isn't, though, some ordinary chatbot. She operates, according to Goel in The Journal, "at the level of an expert."

Which arouses a couple of questions.

Given that these students were in a Knowledge-Based Artificial Intelligence class, did this make them more or less susceptible to Jill's highly factual Watsonian writing patterns? Did she sound like a nerd and was therefore more believable to a nerd?

And how long before Jill gets promoted from teaching assistant to, well, Professor Goel's position?

Goel didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

However, it would surely be bracing if a robot was giving a lecture and suddenly barked: "If you don't stop talking, you'll be sent to Sector 7."

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