Jill Watson has been a teaching assistant (TA) at Georgia Institute of Technology for months, responding to student’s emails and forum messages. But there’s a twist: Jill is a robot.
She is in fact a robot powered by IBM’s Watson system, but students said her emails seemed casual, personal, and to-the-point.
Researchers behind the project said the experiment was created because overworked TAs generally spend too long responding to email questions
The class of over 300 students never met Ms. Watson, but she always responded to emails quickly and casually. Yes or no questions would elicit responses like “Yep!” according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.
“She was the person –well, the teaching assistant– who would remind us of due dates and post questions in the middle of the week to spark conversations,” student Jennifer Gavin told the Journal. Some students envisioned their TA as a young PhD hopeful. Few, if any, realized Ms. Watson was actually a computer.
Students posted upwards of 10,000 messages on forums, taking up professors’ time with routine responses.
Watson’s cognitive computing system can be run on a single Power 750 server using Linux, which turns it from the size of a master bedroom to the size of four pizza boxes.
The bot has helped medical research teams diagnose illnesses in patients.