Editor’s note: The following is a guest post from Dr. David Ferrucci, Principal Investigator, DeepQA/Watson, IBM
Just as IBM set its sights on defeating a chess Grandmaster with Deep Blue in 1997, the company’s scientists have developed a Natural Language Processing, Question Answer machine, named Watson (after company founder Thomas J. Watson, Sr.), to challenge two of the world’s trivia grand masters, to be aired on U.S. television from February 14-16, 2011.
Win or lose on national television, Watson will answer the immediate questions, “does it answer questions accurately?” and “does it answer questions quickly?” with a resounding “yes.”
Beyond excitement for the match itself, the team of IBM scientists is motivated by the possibilities that Watson’s breakthrough computing capabilities hold for building a smarter planet and helping people in their business tasks and personal lives. Watson’s ability to understand the meaning and context of human language, and rapidly process information to find precise answers to complex questions, holds enormous potential to transform how computers help people accomplish tasks in business and their personal lives.
Watson will enable people to rapidly find specific answers to complex questions. The technology could be applied in areas such as healthcare, for accurately diagnosing patients, to improve online self-service help desks, to provide tourists and citizens with specific information regarding cities, prompt customer support via phone, and much more.
Like Deep Blue, Watson represents a major leap in the capacity of information technology systems to identify patterns, gain critical insight and enhance decision-making despite daunting complexity. But while Deep Blue was an amazing achievement in the application of compute power to a computationally well-defined and well-bounded game, Watson faces a challenge that is open-ended and defies the well-bounded mathematical formulation of a game like Chess. Watson has to operate in the near limitless, ambiguous and highly contextual domain of human language and knowledge.
Watson’s technology furthers IBM’s leadership in analytics solutions, which help organizations use the vast amount of information they collect to improve their business operations and service to their customers. Additionally, Watson harnesses IBM’s commercial POWER7 system, showcasing how IBM workload-optimized systems provide unmatched capabilities for processing thousands of simultaneous tasks at rapid speeds, once the realm of only scientific supercomputers.
Read more about the technology behind Watson at ibmwatson.com.