Watson Flexes Brain Power for $1 Million Jeopardy Tournament

By Fahmida Y. Rashid  |  Posted 2011-01-13 Print this article Print


There are potential applications for Watson systems in legal and security settings as well. The system, for example, can look up cases. While that's possible with a search engine, just matching on keywords is "not always clear" what the case "was really about," Frase said. The system would be able to absorb the nuances and subtleties of a case and present a better set of results when researching case precedents.

Researchers trained Watson with 200 million pages of text, or about 1 million books, ranging from sources such as encyclopedias, movie scripts, newspapers and even children's book abstracts. Watson uses the data to analyze contextual clues and figure out how the information relates to each other. "Watson is not just storing all that information," said Bernie Spang, director of strategy for the software group at IBM Research.

Instead of just storing data-which would make it a glorified search engine-Watson's algorithms evaluate the context to understand and co-relate the information with other things it knows. For example, Watson knew BusinessWeek's quote about former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, "If leadership is an art, then surely Jack Welch has proved himself a master painter," according to Ferrucci. Faced with a Jeopardy-style question, "Welch ran this," Watson would have to known that Welch was not a painter at GE, Ferrucci said.

Jeopardy was a "great application" to disprove, or prove, whether the DeepQA algorithms used to build Watson work for this kind of information learning, understanding and retrieval, said Spang.

Watson is powered by 10 racks of Power 750 servers running Linux, containing 15 terabytes of RAM and 2,880 processor cores operating at 80 teraflops, IBM said. Each Power7 system can run thousands of simultaneous analytics algorithms to sift through more than 15 terabytes of information stored in Watson's "brain." The data is stored in a DB2 database.

Under the "hood," Watson is all open-source, using Eclipse as the tools platform along with Apache's Hadoop and Unstructured Information Management Architecture (an "IBM Research creation") to analyze unstructured data, said Spang.

The advances in processing and computing technology built into the Power7 chips were a result of the work that IBM did while building Deep Blue, Spang said.

At the media event, Jennings and Rutter played a practice round with Watson to answer 15 questions across categories such as "Chicks Dig Me" and "MC." While Watson came out strong, Jennings and Rutter held their own, with the final score of Watson with $4,400, Jennings at $3,400 and Rutter at $1,200. As the game's host Alex Trebek often says on real games, "It's still anyone's game."

Taping for the two-game tournament begins Jan. 14, and will be broadcast Feb. 14, 15 and 16. Instead of shipping Watson out to Los Angeles, where the show is usually taped, IBM spent $1 million to build a replica set at its Yorktown Heights Research Center. The game board is much smaller than the original, but the host and players' podiums are exactly the same, said Harry Friedman, executive producer of Jeopardy.

The first place winner will win $1 million, second place gets $300,000 and third place nets $200,000. IBM will donate 100 percent of Watson's winnings to a charity, World Vision, while Rutter and Jennings said they will each donate half of their prizes to their respective charities.


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