Can IBM’s Watson reveal hidden patterns in International Development?

This video of IBM’s natural language processing computer (WATSON) competing on Jeopardy is actually relevant to the kinds of problems our GlobalGiving Storytelling Project hopes to address:

The explanation at 2:23 illustrates how patterns in language intersect with patterns in understanding. I can imagine some day down the road – after we’ve collected 100,000+ stories – that there will be deep patterns in the ways people tell stories about community efforts. All that remains is a way to visualize those patterns and allow people to scan stories and center in on the patterns that yield insights. These insights lead to new hypotheses, that can lead to testing new approaches, that can lead to innovative results…

[Update]: This tidbit from Fast Company exemplifies how humans encode deep layers of meaning in their language:

Band Names also posed problems for Watson because the clues, like this one, were so murky: “The soul of a deceased person, thankful to someone for arranging his burial” (“What is the Grateful Dead?”). If the clue had included the lead guitarist Jerry Garcia or a famous song by the band, Watson could have identified it in an instant. But clues based on allusions, not facts, left it vulnerable.

I believe that people embed similar layers of meaning when they tell stories about community efforts – especially where the blunt truth would come back to haunt them. So semantic patterns do reveal something important to people working in community building.

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