Thursday, November 18, 2010

What Is Watson?

I chose IBM's "BLUE GENE" supercomputer WATSON for my new media example.

WATSON is the world's most advanced "question answering" machine that is due to appear on a special series of Jeopardy! in which it will compete in a computer vs. human contest against the best Jeopardy! players in the world.

Developed by David Ferrucci, IBM's Senior Manager for Semantic Analysis & Integration, WATSON is a three year long project - a computer that has the ability to distinguish exact intended meaning of a question using complex algorithms and search engines to come up with an accurate answer. It's greatest challenge is deciphering meanings of questions that have cultural references or puns. A great example of this was a question actually posed to Watson:

"The name of this hat is elementary, my dear contestant."

Humans readily detect the wordplay here — “elementary, my dear Watson,” is the famous phrase associated with Sherlock Holmes and most would be able to peice together the question to answer what kind of hat the famous detective wore. But for a computer, there's no easy way to identify “elementary, my dear contestant” as wordplay. Matching phrases or different fragments of the sentence, which partly how most modern engines like Google operate these days, isn’t enough. WATSON successfully fills in these gaps in technology and processes human language a step further to produce a correct answer to most any question.

The implications of Watsons capabilities on the future of Artificial Intelligence are limitless. When you consider the idea that what David Ferrucci really developed was a machine capable of thinking for itself, one can assume that if this technology developed further, we might start to see computers that are made with equal intelligence and ability as a human being. A computer could be capable of anything. For hundreds of years great thinkers and writers have speculated on a future world able to be controlled by machines - WATSON is simply a real reminder that for better or worse, this is certainly a possibility!

For more info, you can read the NYTimes article here:

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