Watson Takes On Jeopardy!

What: Deep Blue, IBM’s supercomputer that defeated chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov in 1997 has been redeveloped into Watson, a question-answering machine that plays, and wins, the US games show Jeopardy.

Why: Natural language is incredibly hard for computers to understand and playing Jeopardy requires more than just pointing to a place that might contain the answer, which is what the likes of Google and Bing do.  Deep Blue did not produce a marketable product but a system that can “understand” language could help decision-makers sift through enormous piles of written material in seconds.  Its speed and quality could make it part of rapid-fire decision-making, with users talking to Watson to guide their thinking process.

How: Take a deep breath:

Watson’s speed allows it to try thousands of ways of simultaneously tackling a “Jeopardy!” clue. Most question-answering systems rely on a handful of algorithms, but Ferrucci decided this was why those systems do not work very well: no single algorithm can simulate the human ability to parse language and facts. Instead, Watson uses more than a hundred algorithms at the same time to analyze a question in different ways, generating hundreds of possible solutions. Another set of algorithms ranks these answers according to plausibility; for example, if dozens of algorithms working in different directions all arrive at the same answer, it’s more likely to be the right one. In essence, Watson thinks in probabilities. It produces not one single “right” answer, but an enormous number of possibilities, then ranks them by assessing how likely each one is to answer the question.

The full NY Times article can be found here.

You can play against Watson here.

Find the ibm.com page on Watson here.

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