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Watson Supercomputer: From Game Shows To Medicine

IBM's powerful device has demonstrated impressive artificial intelligence.

Naresh Kumar
Naresh Kumar on June 21, 2010.

IBM is building a natural language processing computer, code-named Watson, to compete against humans on the game show Jeopardy. For the past 3 years, IBM has been perfecting this supercomputer, which has the ability to converse naturally with people in everyday language, unlike typical question-answering systems that can only work with simply phrased questions.

IBM scientists have stored millions of pieces of data in Watson in order for it to answer questions about almost anything,  and more significantly, recognize  oddly phrased questions to answer them with accurate responses. To test its capabilities, the scientists held mock contests pitting Watson against some of the former contestants in a game where Watson’s artificial intelligence was pushed to the limit due to the nature of the game where clues are puzzling, full of trivia and often use wordplay. Watson won some of the games which impressed the producers of Jeopardy enough to allow it to participate in a televised episode of the show, which could happen this year.

IBM has plans for its supercomputer beyond the game show and believes it can be used in several applications in the real world.

Says John Kelly, the head of I.B.M.’s research labs:

“I want to create a medical version of this. A Watson M.D., if you will.” “The problem right now is the procedures, the new procedures, the new medicines, the new capability is being generated faster than physicians can absorb on the front lines and it can be deployed.” He also envisions using Watson to produce virtual call centers, where the computer would talk directly to the customer and generally be the first line of defense, because, “as you’ve seen, this thing can answer a question faster and more accurately than most human beings.” “I want to create something that I can take into every other retail industry, in the transportation industry, you name it, the banking industry,” Kelly goes on to say. “Any place where time is critical and you need to get advanced state-of-the-art information to the front of decision-makers.”

IBM Watson

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