It answers challenging questions and competes against humans on a television game show. "What is IBM's Watson technology?"
Engineers at Big Blue have developed a question-and-answer system dubbed Watson, and the company believes it can challenge and win against contestants on Jeopardy, a television game show produced by Sony Pictures Television and shown by CBS Television Distribution.
IBM's Watson is being designed to handle the meaning behind words, or semantics, in order to answer questions. The questions posed on Jeopardy require the system to identify both relevant and irrelevant content and to decompose questions into sub-questions.
Watson will be able to handle the semantics and provide an answer in seconds, according to IBM.
"The Jeopardy match is aimed to showcase IBM's Question Answering technology," said Michael Loughran, communications manager at IBM Research. "The first step is for Watson to demonstrate its worthiness to play against human contestants by competing in a series of sparing matches starting sometime this year."
A final matchup is planned for sometime in 2010, but the date and specific contestants have not been decided, according to Loughran.
Not the First Time
This isn't the first time IBM has used its technology to challenge humans. IBM's Deep Blue computer beat Garry Kasparov, a world chess champion, in a battle of machine versus human. In playing Jeopardy, Watson will interpret the user's question as a question and determine what the user is asking.
The computer system uses this approach to bring together advanced machine learning and statistical techniques with natural-language processing, according to IBM.
"The challenge is to build a system that, unlike systems before it, can rival the human mind's ability to determine precise answers to natural-language questions and to compute accurate confidences in the answers," said Dr. David Ferrucci, head of IBM's Watson project team.
Having this processing ability is significant, according to Ferrucci. "It greatly distinguishes the IBM approach from conventional search, and is critical to implementing useful business applications of Question Answering," he said.
More Than A Game
IBM developed Watson to test analytics and sort through information management and business intelligence to help its customers find information from heaps of data.
"Beyond Jeopardy, the challenge expands to demonstrating how core open-domain question-and-answer technologies can be quickly and effectively adapted to different business applications," Loughran said. "These applications will demand a deep understanding of users' questions and analysis of huge volumes of natural-language, structured and semi-structured content to rapidly deliver and justify precise, succinct and high-confidence answers."
Business applications will include customer relationship management, regulatory compliance, contact centers, help desks, Web self-service, and business intelligence, according to IBM.
Last year, IBM, along with Carnegie Mellon University and other universities, formed the Open Advancement of Question Answering initiative. The group is a foundation for advancing research collaboration in automatic question answering. IBM plans to bring on additional universities to work on Watson.
After Jeopardy, IBM has no plans to use Watson in any other entertainment game shows.