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David Nahamoo says machines will grok us

David Nahamoo is an expert in speech and language technologies. He spent almost 35 years at IBM Research in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., developing innovative AI technologies such as Watson. The supercomputer won a game on Jeopardy! in 2011 against two of the U.S. TV show’s most successful contestants. Watson answers questions using advanced natural language processing, information retrieval, knowledge representation, automated reasoning, and machine learning technologies.


Nahamoo was dedicated to expanding the capabilities of speech recognition technologies. He wanted to develop a machine that could interact like humans with other humans.

That idea led to a one-year study by IBM that gave birth to the Watson Group, Nahamoo says. The study examined market needs for cognitive computing technologies and business opportunities surrounding automating human sensory, language, learning, and reasoning capabilities.

The supercomputer’s data analytics processor analyzed human speech for meaning and syntax so that it could answer questions posed to the machine, similar to how Amazon‘s Alexa and Apple‘s Siri now work.

Nahamoo says the Watson project was all about making progress on programming machines with the cognitive abilities of humans. The supercomputer was the first step to creating an AI machine that people could interact with as if they were speaking to another person, he says.

One day, he says, AI machines will be able to understand physical cues such as head nodding and posture changes, as well as mimic human emotions. That would enable machines to interact more closely and could let them form connections with humans, he says.

Building such a machine, Nahamoo says, is “my interest, my love.”


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