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IBM’s Watson Wins At Jeopardy, But Would It Still Fall for a Phishing Email?

by John Pescatore  |  February 18, 2011  |  2 Comments

John Henry was on the right hand,
But that steam drill was on the left;
“Before your steam drill beats me down,
Hammer my fool self to death,
Lord, I’ll hammer my fool self to death.”

John Henry Blues

I guess we all now know how railroad workers felt in the late 1800’s when the steam drill came along, and how chess players felt in the late 1900’s when IBM’s Deep Blue computer beat grandmaster Garry Kasparov in chess: IBM’s Watson just beat the grandmasters of Jeopardy.

In an earlier post, I noted: “A Computer Can Play “Jeopardy” But Can’t Keep Users Out of Jeopardy” – I’m sure we will see all kinds of projections of how Watson-like technology can solve all kinds of security problems. However, I bet that when Watson sat down to read all the incoming email after its victory, it likely clicked on a number of phishing emails and gave away its username and password, thinking this time PayPal really did need that information.

Computers are really good at closed set problems and way faster than humans at closed set problems when the size of the closed set is really, really, really large – like a chess game or the answers to Jeopardy questions.  But fraud is really a totally open set problem, for one thing. For another, the compute power available to create new attacks will always be equal to or greater than the compute power available at the target to protect against an attack.

So, it took about 14 years for computers to go from abending when trying to beat a human at Tic Tac Toe to beating humans at chess.  Then it took another 14 years for software  to beat our best Jeopardy players. I’d say it will be at least 14 years before computers will win a phishing kind of Turing test. Of course, by 2025 quantum computing will mean all bets are off anyway.

By the way, a mere 81 years ago today, a cow flew on an airplane for the first time.

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John Pescatore
VP Distinguished Analyst
11 years at Gartner
32 years IT industry

John Pescatore is a vice president and research fellow in Gartner Research. Mr. Pescatore has 32 years of experience in computer, network and information security. Prior to joining Gartner, Mr. Pescatore was senior consultant for Entrust Technologies and Trusted Information Systems… Read Full Bio


Thoughts on IBM’s Watson Wins At Jeopardy, But Would It Still Fall for a Phishing Email?


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Keith Ricketts, Bromley Stone and UK Technology News, joviann . joviann said: IBM’s Watson Wins At Jeopardy, But Would It Still Fall for a Phishing Email? http://bit.ly/e2PWNq | Gartner […]

  2. I think Google has a little similar problem with web spam generated by black hat SEO tactics.

    And most probably Watson/DeepQA technology would not be able to address this challenge anytime soon.



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