Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Jeopardy's IBM Challenge Day 2 - Watson Ascendant!

While The Day 1 premiere of IBM's Jeopardy-playing computer was impressive, Day 2 was pretty much a bloodbath. Watson dominated on the buzzer again, barely leaving the human contestants a chance to answer. In one interesting moment, Watson needed to respond on a Daily Double but found its confidence in its response to be below the normal "buzz threshold", and expressed this verbally by preceding the question with "I am going to take a guess". Of course, the guess was right. Watson was correct on most of his responses, with the notable exception of Final Jeopardy. Even this left no opening for the humans, as Watson wagered only $900 and change while holding a $25,000 lead over the closest competitor. This ends the first game, with another entire round of Jeopardy to be played and the totals of both combined to determine the $1 million winner. Looks like Watson is buying beers at happy hour this Friday.

In an interesting feature, a short documentary-style clip discussed other applications to which the research which created Watson could be applied. A fascinating possibility discussed using a similar system to aggregate medical references, current publications, diagnostic guides, test data and patient history to create a decision-support tool for medical professionals. This led me to consider the power of such systems for finding lost children (or adults) by connecting disparate databases, news sources, municipal registrations, school records, social media, etc. What about harnessing this kind of relational power to telephone and web-based interactive response systems, allowing them to return useful information for a change? Add a layer of Watson-like respond evaluation to a search engine to ensure accurate results! The possibilities are endless and just the advances in natural-language processing and response seen here are staggering. IBM's going to sell a lot of Power 7 servers.

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