Celebrity Names Blog

Watson and More Human Names for Artificial Intelligence Computers

We were glued to our television screens this week watching as IBM's Watson toppled Jeopardy champs Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter on the trivia show.  Over on our sister site BabyNameWizard.com, Laura Wattenberg discussed how apt Watson was as a name for IBM's latest innovation in artificial intelligence.

Some key points on Watson's name:

  • Watson was developed at IBM's Watson Research Center, named for Thomas J. Watson, the company's president in its early days. 
  • The name Watson also calls to mind the trusty sidekick of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. John Watson, and one of the discoverers of DNA, James D. Watson. 
  • Watson, a computer with a voice (and a quirky "personality"), dons a real "person" name, unlike previous IBM chess-champion crushing computer Deep Blue.  

How does Watson, as a name, compare to earlier names for Artificial Intelligence computers?

HAL - From 2001: A Space Oddyssey, HAL 9000 is rumored to have gotten its name by a single letter offset from IBM.  But, officially HAL stands for Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer.

Joshua - This is the name of the program that runs on WOPR, the nuclear war simulating computer in the 1983 film War Games. Joshua is the name of the dead son of the scientist who created the software. 

KITT - The famous talking car from the TV series Knight Rider, KITT is an acronym for Knight Industries Two Thousand.  (Who knew? We thought it stood for  Knight Industries Talking Technology)

Emmy - Not quite an artificial intelligence, and she didn't talk (that would have been way too far out to imagine back in 1957 year when the film Desk Set was released), but Emmy, the nickname for the paper-spewing "electronic brain" EMERAC seemed like a real threat to Katharine Hepburn's  reference librarian at the time.

Can you think of other AI computers, real or fictional, with human names? Which is your favorite? And which do you think is most suited to a baby today?



Please do not add links to your comments. Thank you.

February 19, 2011 8:49 AM
By Caitlyn (not verified)

There's the robot in Short Circuit, who calls himself "Number 5" until he renames himself "Johnny 5"

There's also quite a few android robots in Asimov's work - or do robots not count for these purposes?

February 19, 2011 9:57 AM
By Lane

@Caitlyn, I think it's interesting to think about computer names, since in that case, the name is really important in creating an impression of the entity.

Wikipedia has a surprisingly long list of fictional computers:

They include Mycroft Holmes (Sherlock's brother, apparently), Maxine, Minerva, Solace, Cohen, and Mack and Loki.

February 22, 2011 12:56 PM
By paula (not verified)

On the country music trivia game show Fandango, which aired on The Nashville Network in the 1980's-90's, the computer was named Edgar.

August 29, 2014 3:42 PM
By useful (not verified)

I all the time emailed this webpage post page to all my contacts, for the reason that if like
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November 4, 2014 1:25 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I made a fictional A.I. and named her SARI, which is an acronym for Self-Aware Reconstructed Intelligence. It really suits her, and her creator's name was actually Sarina Reeve, which was a nice coincidence.

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