IBM's Watson: 'Jeopardy!' Win Just the Beginning

With a big win on the "Jeopardy!" quiz show behind it, IBM's Watson computing system is poised to take on challenges in a variety of different disciplines starting with health care.

NEW YORK -- After soundly defeating its human competition in two "Jeopardy" quiz show matches, IBM's "Watson" computer is ready to move on to bigger and better things.

Watson beat two of the show's most successful and celebrated contestants - Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter - to win a $1 million grand prize that IBM donated to charity.

At an IBM event here Feb. 16 for press and analysts to view the airing of the final match, Katherine Frase, vice president of IBM Research, said, "It's not about the game." Frase noted that the Jeopardy game was just a way for IBM to showcase some of the advances it has made in computer science.

However, the Watson experiment indicates how truly important artificial intelligence and natural language processing can be for all kinds of business uses, including health care, law, call centers and a lot more, Frase said.

"After four years, our scientific team believes that Watson is ready for this challenge based on its ability to rapidly comprehend what the Jeopardy clue is asking, analyze the information it has access to, come up with precise answers, and develop an accurate confidence in its response," said David Ferrucci, the scientist leading the IBM Research team that created Watson. "Beyond our excitement for the match itself, our team is very motivated by the possibilities that Watson's breakthrough computing capabilities hold for building a smarter planet and helping people in their business tasks and personal lives."

"We think about it as decision support," Frase said of the application of the Watson technology to business uses. "We can say to the end user here is a recommended answer."

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.

"Ultimately this was an empirical study," Ferrucci said of Watson and the Jeopardy game. "We used it to grow more context. It's a workload optimized system."

That system consists of: 10 racks (about 90) of IBM Power 750 servers with 2880 Power7 cores capable of running at 80 teraflops, 500 GB per second on-chip bandwidth, a 10 GB Ethernet network, 15 terabytes of memory and 20 TBs of clustered disk storage. Watson evaluated the equivalent of 200 million pages of content - or about 1 million books' worth - written in natural human language to find correct responses to the complex Jeopardy clues.

IBM created Watson as part of the company's effort to help business make sense of the explosion of data. Watson can analyze the meaning and context of human language and rapidly process information to find more precise answers to questions posed in natural language. IBM maintains that this holds enormous potential to transform how computers help people accomplish tasks in business, communities and their personal lives.

Meanwhile, Bernie Spang, director of strategy and marketing at IBM Software group, said with Watson's ability to understand natural language - unprecedented in history - its analytics technology is able to analyze massive amounts of data and arrive at the correct answer to a staggering variety of difficult questions across multiple industries.

As such, IBM and Nuance Communications on Feb. 17 announced a research agreement to explore, develop and commercialize Watson's advanced analytics capabilities in the health care industry.

"IBM is going to start moving beyond Jeopardy and we're announcing a partnership with Nuance where we're going to be making a commercial offering, based on Watson, available in the next 24 months," IBM's Ferrucci said.