This week, an episode of NOVA covered Watson, the IBM supercomputer designed to interpret and understand natural human language, with all its ambiguity: wordplay, puns, double-meanings, intuitive differentiations and subtlety. Watson, named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, is the result of the DeepQA Project, the goal of which is to create a computer system that can “deliver precise, meaningful responses, and synthesize, integrate, and rapidly reason over the breadth of human knowledge as it is most rapidly and naturally produced — in natural language text.” IBM believes (and is exhibiting rather impressively) that this may be achieved through a combination of advancements in natural language processing, information retrieval (from millions of stored documents), machine learning, knowledge representation and reasoning, processed simultaneously through parallel computations. The ultimate test of IBM’s research? A show-down episode of Jeopardy!, wherein Watson takes on Ken Jennings, the show’s 74-game champion, and Brad Rutter, the all-time monetary winner of the game. It airs Monday, February 14, 2011.
While frequently compared to the chess-playing Deep Blue, a win by Watson on Monday will be a profoundly deeper and more complex advancement for computer science. Rather than thinking in a single-task environment with a well-defined list of rules—as Deep Blue did—Watson’s ability to compute and process information in a way that rivals human intelligence is a step toward building the holy grail of sci-fi technology: real AI. Regardless of the outcome of Monday’s game, Watson’s development signals the beginning of a new era of systems design and analytics, one in which computers learn from mistakes and accurately interpret the amorphous nature of human language. The applications of such systems are seemingly limitless, with improvements in healthcare, education, finance and data management already under development at IBM.
I’m willing to say with 75% confidence that Watson will win against Jennings and Rutter. What do you think, GAS fans?