IT & Network Infrastructure : IBM's Watson: The Future of Computing

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2011-02-14 Print this article Print
IBMs Watson: The Future of Computing

IBMs Watson: The Future of Computing

by Darryl K. Taft
If you watch the quiz show "Jeopardy" on television this week, you will no doubt be amazed at what you see—a computer from IBM named Watson. That the outcome of the match is not as important as the system itself does not matter. IBM's Watson signals a new era in computing, where computers will increasingly be built and optimized for specific tasks and be able to learn. On Feb. 14, Watson will face its toughest challenge yet. "Jeopardy! The IBM Challenge" will pit the two greatest champions in the show's history against a computing system that will rival their ability to deliver a single, precise answer to a "Jeopardy" clue. (If you can't wait until the show's airing to find out who won, click here.) Over the last century, IBM has reached numerous scientific breakthroughs through its commitment to research and its tradition of Grand Challenges. These Grand Challenges work to push science in ways that weren't thought possible before. "Jeopardy! The IBM Challenge" poses a specific question with very real business implications: Can a system be designed that applies advanced data management and analytics to natural language to uncover a single, reliable insight—in a fraction of a second? Watson relies on advanced analytics to answer questions precisely. But how does analytics work? Operating on a single CPU, it could take Watson 2 hours to answer a single question. A typical "Jeopardy" contestant can accomplish this feat in less than 3 seconds. For Watson to rival the speed of its human competitors in delivering a single, precise answer to a question requires custom algorithms, terabytes of storage and thousands of Power7 computing cores working in a massively parallel system.
Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.

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