Natural Language Processing For $500, Alex
I recently provided a personal remembrance of the Kasparov v. Deep Blue chess matches of the late 1990s, the IBM “John Henry” contest between a Russian chess grandmaster and an IBM supercomputer.
At the end of the post, per the custom of American TV game show Jeopardy!,”I posed the answer with a question: “What is Watson?”
Here’s your expanded answer: Watson is a new supercomputer, named after founder Thomas J. Watson, and programmed once again by a set of IBM Researchers, this time to compete on the longstanding game show Jeopardy! against the show’s two most successful and celebrated contestants — Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.
The first-ever man vs. machine Jeopardy! competition will air on February 14, 15 and 16, 2011, with two matches being played over three consecutive days.
Watson was built by a team of IBM scientists who set out to accomplish a grand challenge –- build a computing system that rivals a human’s ability to answer questions posed in natural language with speed, accuracy and confidence.
The Jeopardy! format provides the ultimate challenge because the game’s clues involve analyzing subtle meaning, irony, riddles, and other complexities in which humans excel and computers traditionally do not.
Competing against Watson will be two of the most celebrated players ever to appear on Jeopardy! Ken Jennings broke the Jeopardy! record for the most consecutive games played by winning 74 games in a row during the 2004-2005 season, resulting in winnings of more than $2.5 million.
Brad Rutter won the highest cumulative amount ever by a single Jeopardy! player, earning $3,255,102. The total amount is a combination of Rutter’s original appearance in 2002, plus three Tournament wins: the “Tournament of Champions” and the “Million Dollar Masters Tournament” in 2002 and the “Ultimate Tournament of Champions” in 2005.
Artificial Intelligence That Could Save Humanity For $300
The grand prize for this competition will be $1 million with second place earning $300,000 and third place $200,000. Rutter and Jennings will donate 50 percent of their winnings to charity and IBM will donate 100 percent of its winnings to charity.
“After four years, our scientific team believes that Watson is ready for this challenge based on its ability to rapidly comprehend what the Jeopardy! clue is asking, analyze the information it has access to, come up with precise answers, and develop an accurate confidence in its response,” said Dr. David Ferrucci, the scientist leading the IBM Research team that has created Watson.
Beyond our excitement for the match itself, our team is very motivated by the possibilities that Watson’s breakthrough computing capabilities hold for building a smarter planet and helping people in their business tasks and personal lives.”
“We’re thrilled that Jeopardy! is considered a benchmark of ultimate knowledge,” said Harry Friedman, Executive Producer of Jeopardy!. “Performing well on Jeopardy! requires a combination of skills, and it will be fascinating to see whether a computer can compete against arguably the two best Jeopardy! players ever.”
Watson: Spars In More Than 50 Games To Prep For The Best
This past fall, Watson played more than 50 “sparring games” against former Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions contestants in final preparation for its television debut.
In addition, Watson has taken and passed the same Jeopardy! contestant test that humans take to qualify to play on the show, giving Jeopardy! producers confidence that the match will be both entertaining and competitive.
You can see highlights of those sparring matches here.
Real World Applications for Watson’s Technology
One of the criticisms that emanated during and after the Deep Blue chess matches was that IBM didn’t demonstrate the real-world applicability of the technology behind the chess moves.
This time around, IBM is working to answer more of those kinds of questions up front.
To be sure, beyond Jeopardy!, the technology behind Watson can be adapted to solve problems and drive progress in various fields (I’m already trying to understand how we could leverage it on our Web site!)
The Watson computer has the ability to sift through vast amounts of data and return precise answers, ranking its confidence in its answers. Such technology could be applied to a whole range of industries: healthcare, to more accurately diagnose patients based on empirical data; tech, to improve online health desks; tourism, to help provide tourists with information about cities; customer service, to improve prompting and directing customer support inquiries via phone and web…the list goes on.
Yes, But What Is Watson?
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 deliver correct responses to Jeopardy! clues.
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.
Jeopardy!, the winner of 28 Emmy awards since its syndicated debut in 1984, is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most awards won by a TV Game Show. The series is the #1-rated quiz show in syndication with nearly 9 million daily viewers. Jeopardy! is produced by Sony Pictures Television, a Sony Pictures Entertainment Company. It is distributed domestically by CBS Television Distribution and internationally by CBS Television International, both units of CBS Corp.
For more information about Jeopardy!, visit www.Jeopardy.com
To learn more about Watson and to view a video series about the DeepQA technology powering Watson, please visit www.ibmwatson.com.
You can also join the social discussion about Watson (be sure to include the hashtag #ibmwatson in your Tweets!)
If you want, you can also become Watson’s friend on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ibmwatson.
Even supercomputers need friends.