"What is Watson?" the IBM Jeopardy! winning supercomputer

Jeopardy! (Sony Pictures)
By Richi Jennings. January 14, 2011.

IBM's Watson supercomputer will be competing in Jeopardy! next month. Against two "unbeatable" contestants: Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings [no relation]. In IT Blogwatch, bloggers take Artificial Intelligence for $200, Alex.

Your humble blogwatcher curated these bloggy bits for your entertainment. Not to mention #sharingisawesome...


Paul Miller signs in:

In February IBM's Watson will be in an official Jeopardy tournament-style competition with titans of trivia Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. ... Today IBM and Jeopardy offered a quick teaser of that match ... at lightning speed. Not a single question was answered wrongly, and at the end of the match Watson ... was ahead with $4,400, Ken had $3,400, and Brad had $1,200.


The actual tech behind Watson (dubbed "DeepQA" by IBM) ... has thousands of algorithms it runs on the questions ... for comprehension and for answer formulation. ... Watson runs them all simultaneously ... matching up a potential meaning for the question with a potential answer to the question. ... If the confidence in an answer is high enough, it buzzes in and wins Trebek Dollars.

Nathan Olivarez-Giles shows us the money:

Watson will take on the two former champions for a prize of $1 million. ... Brad Rutter, who has won more than $3 million on the game show, and Ken Jennings, who set a record with 74 consecutive "Jeopardy" wins in 2004-05 in which he racked up more than $2.5 million.


Watson, about as big as 10 refrigerators ... took about four years to build and is made up of 10 racks of IBM servers running Linux with 15 terabytes ... filled Watson with about 200 million pages' worth of information from encyclopedias, dictionaries, books, news and movie scripts.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, for one, welcomes our Linux Penguin, Jeopardy Overlords:

What is Watson running? Linux, of course. There’s nothing surprising about that. The fastest of fast computers have long used Linux. ... Expert systems, which have been around for decades, can answer ... only within a narrowly-defined field. No one thought a machine could do well at “Jeopardy!” because there’s just too much trivia ... and Jeopardy’s clues are mini-puzzles in themselves that require “understanding”.


This doesn’t mean though that we can start fearing the Terminator’s Skynet or ... HAL. Instead, we can start looking forward to Star Trek-style Library Computer Access/Retrieval System ... computers where all we need do is talk to our computers to get our answers and perhaps ... even “Tea, Earl Grey, Hot.”

Dan Nosowitz peeks behind the curtain:

Watson, named after IBM's founder, is one epic supercomputer. To handle the formidable task that competing on Jeopardy! presents, ... 2,800 Power7 cores. That power is absolutely necessary ... A lot of the challenge in ... Jeopardy! questions lies in the questions themselves ... often incorporating wordplay, riddles, and irony. ... The vagaries of language mean that the questions can be interpreted in all kinds of different ways, so merely figuring out what the question is trying to ask provides the majority of the struggle.


Watson will not be connected to the Internet, so there won't be any instant Wikipedia lookups.

Audrey Watters utters a mouthful:

IBM describes Watson as "an application of advanced Natural Language Processing, Information Retrieval, Knowledge Representation and Reasoning, and Machine Learning technologies to the field of open-domain question answering."


Watson is the successor to IBM's Deep Blue, the computer that famously beat World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov in 1987.

And Bob Warfield muses on enterprise use of the technology:

Imagine having a resource like Watson tirelessly available for your organization’s needs. ... The ultimate business intelligence tool?  ... The machine could cross index every bit of data available in any datamart your corporation has for an answer.


 "Open the pod bay doors, HAL."

  But Robert X. Cringely continues his haranguing of IBM:

IBM has a split personality. IBM values research and development. ... So we can expect many noteworthy research innovations from IBM in coming years as well as more publicity blitzes like this Jeopardy thing that are substitutes for actual marketing because they involve no real products.


IBM will continue to loot and damage its services business. ... It is mismanaging and damaging it. ... IBM is not only hurting one part of its company, it is souring its relationship with customers. ... IBM’s services business will become a detriment to the company.

  And that’s IBM’s real jeopardy.

And Finally...

So you found something cool on the Internet...

[warning: swears;
 hat tip: Rosscott, via Xeni Jardin #sharingisawesome]

Don't miss out on IT Blogwatch:

Richi Jennings, your humble blogwatcher
  Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and security. A cross-functional IT geek since 1985, you can follow him as @richi on Twitter, pretend to be richij's friend on Facebook, or just use good old email: itbw@richij.com.

You can also read Richi's full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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