“The way to think about this is: Can Watson decide to create Watson?” said Pradeep Khosla, dean of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “We are far from there. Our ability to create is what allows us to discover and create new knowledge and technology.”

Experts in the field say it is more than the spark of creation that separates man from his mechanical spawn. It is the pride creators can take, the empathy we can all have with the winners and losers, and that magical mix of adrenaline, fear, and ability that kicks in when our backs are against the wall and we are in survival mode.

What humans have that Watson, IBM’s earlier chess champion Deep Blue, and all their electronic predecessors and software successors do not have and will not get is the sort of thing that makes song, romance, smiles, sadness, and all that jazz. It’s something the experts in computers, robotics, and artificial intelligence know very well because they can’t figure out how it works in people, much less duplicate it. It’s that indescribable essence of humanity.

Nevertheless, Watson—which took 25 IBM scientists four years to create—is more than just a trivia whiz, some experts say.

Richard Doherty, a computer industry expert and research director at the Envisioneering Group in Seaford, N.Y., said he has been studying artificial intelligence for decades. He thinks IBM’s advances with Watson are changing the way people think about artificial intelligence and how a computer can be programmed to give conversational answers—not merely lists of sometimes not-germane entries.

“This is the most significant breakthrough of this century,” he said. “I know the phones are ringing off the hook with interest in Watson systems. The internet may trump Watson, but for this century, it’s the most significant advance in computing.”