Watson, I Need You

The Pentagon is hiring Watson—IBM’s super computer that defeated all-time Jeopardy! champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in a 2011 exhibition match—to help interpret the inscrutable 5000 series of procurement rules, Air Force acquisition chief William LaPlante revealed at an AFA-sponsored, Air Force breakfast Friday. “I’m not kidding,” LaPlante said. “We’re going to teach Watson the FAR,” or Federal Acquisition Regulations, with the aim of “seeing how far [we] can go … in automation of some acquisition practices, where you have almost artificial intelligence.” He later told reporters one experiment might be to feed a novel acquisition approach to Watson to see “if it’s legal. We’re going to teach it to be a lawyer.” LaPlante said the experiment is only one of a number of innovative acquisition ideas in play, such as creating a “big challenge” prize of $2 million for whoever can design the most efficient next-generation engine for remotely piloted aircraft. After a 100-minute briefing on top acquisition programs and the health of the acquisition workforce, LaPlante, showing his prescience, dryly observed, “’Watson’ is going to be the headline tomorrow, isn’t it?”