Steven Baker is author of the up-coming "Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything." If you haven't seen the three-part match, the finale will be broadcast this evening and Baker will be updating this post with real results shortly after.
First, this passage from his op-ed in the LA Times is worth a chuckle (Watson, if it isn't clear, is the name of the computer competitor):
Once, when queried about a famous French bacteriologist, Watson skipped right past Louis Pasteur and responded instead: "What is, 'How tasty was my little Frenchman?'" (the title of a 1971Brazilian movie about cannibals). Even worse, Watson churned away for nearly two hours to come up with such nonsense. Things have changed.
Yes, funny. Funny to a fault, actually. The real message is one of shifting priorities in our offices. We've written much recently on efforts to rethink how we manage our people, how important they are to the way process and technology interact. But the advent of a super-computer that is actually competitive on a show like Jeopardy feels like a more important message than one of simple entertainment.
So, we offer this question: are you using your teams to complete the tasks that are worthy of their capabilities? Your people are (generally) a vastly underused resource. Consider the challenges you are giving your teams and the trust you give them to deliver creative results with minimal supervision. In most cases, getting great results from them will hinge more on giving them challenges that are up to their ability rather than the converse: that you have staff whose collective ability is not up to the tasks they are given.
The rest of us will adapt to the invasion of question-answering Watsons by focusing on work at which the human brain excels — and will leave the rest to machines. We've already outsourced long division, spelling and much of our highway navigation to machines. Now we'll look to them more and more to dig through mountains of data and come up with answers for us. This should free us up to do what remains uniquely human, at least for now: generating fresh ideas.
UPDATE: Wired has a terrific set of pictures inside the Watson facility, if you fancy a tour.