Will "Watson" be the next Google? Bing?

Fear not, humans: Watson the new Jeopardy champion won’t take over the world — yet


After “Jeopardy” began taping its three man-vs.-machine matches last month, pitting the IBM artificial intelligence software Watson against two of the game show’s most celebrated champions, host Alex Trebek confessed some concern to author Stephen Baker.

“Is this going to be fair?” he and the producers of “Jeopardy” asked, repeatedly. It wasn’t just a matter of ensuring an honest fight. The show’s producers wanted the Watson challenge to be compelling television. And if the machine — powered by a cluster of 90 servers with nearly 3,000 processing cores and 16 terabytes of data storage — made mincemeat of its human opponents, the show would be a pretty dull affair.

The IBM team, led by principal investigator David Ferrucci, reassured the show’s producers that the terms of the contest would, if anything, favor the humans.

“What we’re doing is we’re building a machine, and the machine has all kinds of weaknesses. It doesn’t understand language very well. And it doesn’t know anything,” Baker said, recalling the IBM team’s argument. “So we’re putting an ignorant machine that has a language handicap up, and you’re saying it’s not fair because it happens to be fast on the buzzer?”

Now, of course, observers are crying foul all over again, after Watson dispatched his human competitors with apparent ease. In Tuesday’s match, for example, Watson answered all but two questions correctly. The machine made a rather glaring flub by offering “Toronto” as the answer to a Final Jeopardy question whose category was “U.S. Cities,” but otherwise seemed unbeatable.

Watson cruised to victory in the final installment Wednesday, prompting Ken Jennings to write for his Final Jeopardy answer, “I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords.”

Watson is just a super search engine


If we learned one thing by watching the Watson computer challenge real humans on the “Jeopardy!” game show, it’s that International Business Machines Corp. has developed a new kind of search engine.

That’s what this is all about, a search engine, probably called Watson that will obviously take straight English queries and deliver answers. This has been the promise of numerous search engines, beginning with Ask Jeeves. That idea is still being explored by Ask.com, owned by IAC/InterActive Corp.

This Watson device should go online immediately — assuming it actually works and is scalable.

All we know so far is that IBM intends to produce a medical-expert system using the technology.

During the heyday of the AltaVista search engine and the early days of Google Inc. , IBM had been playing around with search technology and had an internal “private” engine that was as good as anything commercially available. I followed its development closely, and somewhere along the line IBM dropped the idea.

But this indicated to me that the company had some interest. Surely the attention (and money) given to Google must have been noticed by now.

When I think of the possibilities, I wonder if the algorithms can be used for more than trivia but to determine the kind of websites that people are looking for. In other words, can these algorithms deliver the same kind of results as Google?

I don’t see why not.

Pure algorithmic search results without needing to cache the entire Internet every few minutes is a holy grail of these technologies. At some point, Google’s cache’s will be larger than planet Earth. If you want to stop global warming, stop Google from adding more server farms.

I cannot find anyone at IBM to comment on whether the company has any immediate plans in this area. Watson is a research project; IBM does a lot of research.

Comment: Watson official page. Interesting article on why Watson missed the Toronto question.

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