IBM claims to have developed a computer intelligent enough to compete against humans on the popular and long-running TV quiz game show Jeopardy!
Called Watson, the computer employs an advanced Question Answer (QA) system that IBM scientists have been developing for the past two years. This allows the PC to not just understand complex questions (like a "Google on steroids", the company describes), but also to respond quickly enough to compete on the fast-paced program. Many "clues" on the show, which is produced by Sony Pictures Television and distributed by CBS Television Distribution, contain subtle irony and riddles: this means the robot has to analyze each question rather than filter through a database of information.
Unlike Deep Blue, a chess-winning computer IBM built in 1997, Watson has to be able to solve open-ended problems in order to compete with the quick and logical-thinking human mind. This means that the computer can handle semantics, interpreting ambiguous expressions and jokes, decomposing questions, and computing "a statistical confidence in the responses it provides".
"The challenge is to build a system that, unlike systems before it, can rival the human mind's ability to determine precise answers to natural language questions and to compute accurate confidences in the answers," explains Dr. David Ferrucci, Leader of the IBM Watson project team. "This confidence processing ability is key. It greatly distinguishes the IBM approach from conventional search, and is critical to implementing useful business applications of Question Answering."
Don't believe it? Jeopardy! officials have agreed to produce and air a humans vs. machine competition where Watson can truly be put to the test.
"...We are delighted to be able to expand the form and the possibilities through this exciting new project," enthuses Sir Howard Stringer, Chairman, CEO and President of Sony Corp.
Of course future applications for Watson will move beyond just fun game shows: IBM hopes to utilize the technology to help speed up the time it takes for industries to find answers to difficult problems. On the customer service side, for example, it can decipher a customer's inquiry in order to determine exactly what he's looking for. IBM plans to invite universities to collaborate on Watson.
Photo: Episodes of game show Jeopardy! were filmed at the Sony booth during the 2009 International CES in Las Vegas earlier this year.
Photo: Dave Ferrucci, IBM scientist and Watson project director.