Natural Language Machine
Watson is a "natural language processing question answer machine." If that makes you think of the erstwhile search engine Ask Jeeves, it should. Though no doubt the engineers behind Watson are praying to their clanking robot gods that it won't answer a question like "Where is CIA headquarters?" with a photo gallery featuring grown men in diapers.
At any rate, Watson (named after the company's founder, not the pistol-packing pimp from the Sherlock Holmes stories), will take on Jennings and Rutter in two matches over three days, February 14, 15 and 16. It has already done a number of test matches against former contestant and passed the Jeopardy knowledge test all contestants must take to qualify for the show.
The company's announcement outlines the goals behind creating the computer.
"IBM scientists . . . set out to accomplish a grand challenge - build a computing system that rivals a human's ability to answer questions posed in natural language with speed, accuracy and confidence. The Jeopardy! format provides the ultimate challenge because the game's clues involve analyzing subtle meaning, irony, riddles, and other complexities in which humans excel and computers traditionally do not."
Lord. Good luck. Unfortunately, the company did not release the kind of technical information that might allow us to determine how likely it is that the computer is really "understanding" the questions in any substantive way, vs. just employing a fancy keyword algorithm. But we've contacted them for a comment.
IBM says the real-world applications of the technology that powers Watson "could be applied in areas such as healthcare, to help accurately diagnose patients, to improve online self-service help desks, to provide tourists and citizens with specific information regarding cities, prompt customer support via phone" and more.
The challenge pays. The winner will take $1 million, second place $300,000 and third $200,000. IBM has committed to donating all of its prize money to charity and the humanoids have committed to donating 50% of theirs.
Other sources: Smarter Planet