IBM’s Watson is still in its early days, but the cognitive computing system could end up having a substantial impact on a number of industries, particularly healthcare and education. For example, Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in England is currently using the technology to improve the patient experience, while an interactive toy called the Cognitoys Dino uses Watson to answer a child’s questions in a kid-friendly and personalized way.
Another space that could largely benefit from Watson’s capabilities is the gaming industry. The interactive nature of games paired with Watson’s natural language processing capabilities and data analysis has already led to a number of new gaming initiatives, including the first-ever Minecraft game that utilizes Watson. Called ‘Medical Minecraft,’ the game was recently created by a group of high school students. In the game, players fly a nanobot through the bloodstream of a human boy while killing off elements of infectious diseases like measles and malaria.
When they hit roadblocks in the game, Watson – which is filled with information from medical journals on infectious disease from around the world – comes in to answer questions that will help the player progress. The purpose of the game is provide a learning experience for students that is not only exciting but also allows them to learn on their own terms since they’re the ones formulating the questions and determining what to ask next.
Speaking at the Games for Change Festival in New York City this week, head of strategy and business development at IBM’s Serious Gaming unit Porter Stowell discussed why he believes games like Medical Minecraft have the potential to revolutionize the way today’s students learn.
“When you tell [students] that it’s Minecraft time versus science time, their reaction is completely different,” Stowell said. “One of the things that I think educational designers get wrong, specifically in the corporate environment, is that they make the assumption that when they develop educational content, you’re going to pay attention. That you’re going to sit down, you’re going to focus on this learning module they created and you’re going to read every line and soak up every aspect of text. To me, learning in the traditional sense isn’t designed for the new normal. You have to win the war of the eyeball first.”
He also argued that games can help explain complicated subject matter in a way that other methods of teaching cannot because they allow players to experiment.
“I hear so much in the educational space that they want to simplify things. You don’t need to steer away from complexity,” he said. “What games do better than any other medium is they allow you to experiment. In games there is that safe environment for you to try something new, get a result, try again, do it differently, adapt, learn, repeat and experiment.”