IBM Watson: Going Beyond Jeopardy

Charlene OHanlon

When IBM's Watson supercomputer takes its place on the 'Jeopardy!' stage next month to show its processing prowess in a match against contestant greats Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, I wonder how many viewers will be rooting for the computer?

Watson is a computer, but if you heard it �speak' without seeing it, you might think it's human. Really, it's the most human-sounding computer I've ever heard. It uses tonal inflections just like humans, so its �voice' is conversational.

Next month, when the three-day competition airs and I'm just listening to the show, I wouldn't be surprised if I momentarily forget Watson is a computer.

That, in a way, concerns me. Watson has the ability to comprehend and react to natural human language, not unlike the way the computer aboard the Enterprise answers questions on 'Star Trek.' The major differences between the 'Star Trek' computer and Watson, however, are two: Watson is not science fiction, and it exists in this millennium.

I got to experience firsthand Watson's computing and conversing abilities in a trial run of 'Jeopardy!' at IBM Research Center. Watson went up against Jennings and Rutter-the two most celebrated 'Jeopardy!' contestants in the history of the show-and in a five-minute session beat both of them. It wasn't a trounce-Watson earned $4,400, while Jennings earned $2,400 and Rutter earned $1,200-but if it's any indication of how the actual competition will go, the machine will triumph over the humans.

A sign of things to come?

Paranoia aside, Watson does have the potential to be a useful tool for humanity. David Ferrucci, principal investigator of Watson DeepOA technology at IBM Research, and John E. Kelly III, IBM senior vice president and director of IBM Research, both noted that there are infinite applications for Watson's kind of intelligence, starting in the health care field.

'I think we have the potential to create a Dr. Watson, and I think we can probably save lives with it,' Kelly said. 'I cannot imagine a single industry where there isn't the potential to be transformed with this technology.'

Indeed, Watson's current and future computing power is awe-inspiring. Plus, it's a self-learning machine-whenever it answers a question incorrectly, it analyzes both the question and the wrong answer to discern why it was wrong and-much like (most) humans-actually learns from its mistakes.

Ferrucci pointed out that this technology is advancing at a lightning-fast clip, doubling in speed every 24 to 48 months. It's not inconceivable that within the next decade, Watson-style processing power will be in devices that fit into the palms of our hands. Or smaller.

That, of course, means another sea change in IT, which is already undergoing myriad changes thanks to the consumerization of technology. When you comprehend what the future holds, is it really possible to �future-proof' your IT infrastructure? I think not.

However, IT departments can look ahead a few years, which-at least to my understanding-won't include robots working alongside humans or embedded devices that attend to our every need. When it comes right down to it, no one knows what the future brings, but being prepared is never a bad thing.

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Jun 7, 2011 7:06 AM Office 2007 Office 2007  says:
However, IT departments can look ahead a few years, which � at least to my understanding � won�t include robots working alongside humans or embedded devices that attend to our every need. Reply

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