Turbotodd

Ruminations on IT, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Watson Redux

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If you missed your chance to watch the competition aired nationally in North America this past February between IBM and America’s favorite quiz show Jeopardy!, fear not: IBM announced today that Jeopardy! will broadcast an encore presentation of the first-ever man vs. machine Jeopardy! competition between IBM’s “Watson” computing system and the show’s two greatest contestants – Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

Millions of North American viewers will be able to again witness TV history as Watson successfully competes against two human champions in two matches played over three consecutive days, September 12, 13, and 14, 2011.

(Spoiler Alert: developerWorks’ Scott Laningham and I interviewed the principal investigator and project lead of the Watson effort, Dr. David Ferrucci, during this year’s SXSW Interactive conference in March of this year. Do NOT watch the video Q&A below if you haven’t yet seen the broadcast/re-broadcast if you don’t want to spoil the ending! In the interview, Ferrucci explains in some detail the AI methods behind Watson’s madness!)

“With the Jeopardy! challenge, we accomplished what was thought to be impossible – building a computer system that operates in the near limitless, ambiguous and highly contextual realm of human language and knowledge,” said Dr. David Ferrucci, IBM Fellow and scientist leading the IBM Research team that created Watson. “Watching the match again reminds us of the great power and potential behind Watson to be able to make sense of the massive amounts of data around us and to solve problems in new ways.”

Six months after the original competition, Watson’s Deep Question Answering (QA) technology has already driven progress in new fields such as the healthcare industry. IBM is working with Nuance Communications, Inc. to explore and develop applications to help critical decision makers, such as physicians and nurses, process large volumes of health information in order to deliver quicker and more accurate patient diagnoses. Working with universities and clients, IBM is identifying many potential uses for Watson’s underlying QA technology.

The technology underlying Watson analyzes the structure and wording of the question or challenge being investigated, and formulates an answer that it has the highest level of ‘confidence’ is correct.  Watson answers ‘natural language’ questions, which can contain puns, slang, jargon and acronyms that must all be evaluated as part of Watson’s confidence in returning an answer.

The Watson v. Jeopardy! man v. machine contest, featuring Jeopardy! champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, will be re-broadcast in North America in mid-September.

“We recognized the Jeopardy! IBM Challenge was not only a historic moment for television, but also for scientific discovery and innovation,” said Harry Friedman, executive producer of Jeopardy! “We wanted to provide the opportunity for more viewers to once again enjoy this ground-breaking exhibition match.”

IBM and the other contestants gave $1.25 million to charity, with $1 million coming from IBM.

What is Watson?

Watson, named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, is a breakthrough human achievement in the scientific field of Question and Answering, also known as “QA.” The Watson software is powered by an IBM POWER7 server optimized to handle the massive number of tasks that Watson must perform at rapid speeds to analyze complex language and answer questions posed in natural language with speed, accuracy and confidence.

Beyond providing correct responses, Watson had to analyze Jeopardy! clues that involved subtle meaning, irony, riddles, and other complexities in which humans excel and computers traditionally do not. The system incorporates a number of proprietary technologies for the specialized demands of processing an enormous number of concurrent tasks and data while analyzing information in real time.

You can learn more about the Watson research initiative here.

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Written by turbotodd

August 29, 2011 at 9:33 pm

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