IBM designs supercomputer to play Jeopardy!

Posted by Aharon Etengoff

Chicago (IL) - IBM has announced the development of an "advanced computing system" that will compete with human contestants on Jeopardy!

The system, codenamed "Watson," is capable of quickly responding to sophisticated queries that require an accurate comprehension of ambiguous expression.

"The essence of making decisions is recognizing patterns in vast amounts of data, sorting through choices and options, and responding quickly and accurately," explained IBM CEO Samuel J. Palmisano. "Watson is a compelling example of how the planet – companies, industries, cities – is becoming smarter. With advanced computing power and deep analytics, we can infuse business and societal systems with intelligence. This project is the latest example of IBM's longstanding commitment to fundamental research and to overcoming 'grand challenges' in science and technology."

Watson reportedly utilizes "massive" parallel processing to "simultaneously and instantly" understand complex questions. This unique approach integrates advanced machine learning and statistical techniques with natural language processing.

"The challenge is to build a system that, unlike systems before it, can rival the human mind's ability to determine precise answers to natural language questions and to compute accurate confidences in the answers," said Dr. David Ferrucci, leader of the IBM Watson project team. "This confidence processing ability is key. It greatly distinguishes the IBM approach from conventional search, and is critical to implementing useful business applications of Question Answering. Progress on the underlying QA technologies enabling Watson will be important in the quest to understand and build 'intelligent computing systems' capable of cooperating with humans in language-related tasks previously out of reach for computers."

It should be noted that IBM's "Deep Blue" supercomputer, which managed to defeat World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov in 1997, was able to calculate 200 million chess moves per second based on a fixed problem.

In contrast, Watson is "seeking to solve an open-ended problem that requires an entirely new approach – mainly through dynamic, intelligent software – to even come close to competing with the human mind."