IBM showed off its Watson supercomputer in an exhibition Human vs. Machine game of Jeopardy, while discussing its potential practical uses in the IT industry, especially in health care and tech support.
Watson, IBM's latest DeepQA supercomputer,
defeated its two human challengers during a demonstration round of Jeopardy on
Jan. 13. The supercomputer will face former Jeopardy champions Ken Jennings and
Brad Rutter in a two-game,
to be aired in February.
However, the Jeopardy match-up was not the "culmination" of four
years of work by IBM Research scientists
that worked on the Watson project, but rather, "just the beginning of a
journey," Katharine Frase, vice president of industry solutions and
emerging business at IBM Research, told
Supercomputers that can understand natural human language-complete with
puns, plays on words and slang-to answer complex questions will have
applications in areas such as health
care, tech support and business analytics
, David Ferrucci, the lead
researcher and principal investigator on the Watson project, said at the media
event showcasing Watson at IBM's Yorktown
Heights Research Lab.
Watson analyzes "real language," or spoken language, as opposed to
simple or keyword-based questions, to understand the question, and then looks
at the millions of pieces of information it has stored to find a specific
answer, said Ferrucci. "The hard part for Watson is finding and justifying
the correct answer, computing confidence that it's right and doing it fast
enough," said Ferrucci.
This is where Jeopardy comes in. The quiz show covers a broad range of
topics, and the questions can be asked in a variety of ways, whether it's quirky,
straightforward or downright strange. Creating a machine that can take on human
challengers on Jeopardy
became a "rally cry" for researchers to
think about question and answer processing in a "more open and different
way," Frase said.
"Grand challenges are a big deal to IBM,"
said John Kelly III, IBM's senior vice
president and director of IBM Research. IBM's
last major challenge was Deep Blue, the supercomputer that took on Chess
Grandmaster Garry Kasparov in 1987. Many of the supercomputers used by the
Department of Defense are the "sons and grandsons" of Deep Blue,
Jeopardy is significantly more complicated than chess, said Ferrucci. Chess
can be broken down mathematically and there are finite combinations, he said,
while Jeopardy has "infinite ways" to extract data. Watson needs to
understand the clues, pick which categories to choose, decide how confident it
is that the answer is correct and decide how to wager during for "Daily
Doubles" questions or for the final round.
The technology has to process natural language to understand "what did
they mean" versus "what did they say," which has a lot of implications
in the health care sector, said Frase. Patients are not using the terms doctors
learned in medical school to describe their ailments, but more likely the terms
they picked up from their parents growing up, she said.
A Watson-like system can take that information and co-relate it against all
the medical journals and relevant information, and say, "Here's what I
think and why," while showing its evidence for how it came up with the
conclusion, according to Frase. The machine won't be making a diagnosis or
treatment decisions-a doctor would-but the machine can present information to
help the doctor, making diagnoses and treatment decisions much faster and more efficiently,
said Frase. A similar situation exists for tech support, where the system would
be able to figure out what the problem is.