IBM Watson computer to compete on US game show

Written by Ben Hardwidge

April 27, 2009 // 2:45 p.m.

Tags: #answer #computer #david #ferrucci #friedman #game #google #harry #ibm #jeopardy #john #kelly #language #question #quiz #show #watson

IBM is hoping to move computers one step closer beating the Turing Test by entering its Watson computer into the US game show Jeoaprdy! The computer will compete against humans on the show, and will have to come up with accurate, intelligible answers to the questions, as well as buzz in before the human players.

Named after Thomas J Watson, IBM’s president in the early years of the company, The Watson computer will not only have to have access to a large bank of knowledge, but also understand the questions and provide answers that make sense. In a video to publicise the contest, Jeopardy!’s executive producer, Harry Friedman explained that “it requires critical thinking, it requires a whole lot more than knowledge alone, so when people hear about this project and they say “well isn’t this just sort of Google on steroids?” No it is not.”

David Ferrucci, project director at IBM Research, says that Watson “is going to advance the state of the art in automatic question answering,” but this is a big challenge for artificial intelligence. John Kelly, senior vice president and director of research at IBM, admitted that “it’s always been a challenge to create computers that can actually communicate with and operate at anything like the level of a human mind.”

However Kelly is confident that Watson is up to the task of competing in the game show. “Under the hood in Watson is a natural language processing technology that’s going to help advance the field,” said Kelly, “and Jeopardy! is a great showcase for that kind of technology.” He added that the project “will represent an entirely new level of communication between computers and human beings. What we’re doing here is creating here a system that will be able to be applied to all sorts of applications in the world and essentially cut the time to find answers to very difficult problems.”

A lot of ambitious IBM projects have been designed to bridge the gap between humans and computers. In November last year, the company revealed its plans to create a virtual human brain, and IBM’s Deep Blue chess computer also famously beat chess world champion Garry Kasparov at the game in 1997.

Do you think IBM can build a computer that can successfully compete on a game show? Let us know your thoughts in the forums.
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