IBM Supercomputer 'Watson' Prepping for 'Jeopardy'

IBM's "Watson" supercomputer could find its way onto the game show "Jeopardy" as early as this fall after performing well in mock Jeopardy games at IBM Labs over the winter, harkening back to the famous 1997 chess contest between world champion Gary Kasparov and IBM's Blue Gene computer. IBM officials say Watson will have practical commercial applications, enabling businesses to more quickly and accurately find and access information.

IBM's "Watson" supercomputer apparently is getting ready to make its "Jeopardy" debut.

IBM officials last year unveiled Watson, a computer with the natural language capabilities that not only can find information when asked directly for it-as the Google search engine can do-but can quickly go through its vast knowledge database and make the connections necessary to answer the types of questions posed on Jeopardy, which often have subtle meanings or are put in the form of puns, riddles or other such sentences.

IBM officials, who made headlines in 1997 when its Blue Gene supercomputer beat world chess champion Gary Kasparov in a classic machine-vs.-man match, a year ago said the computer was getting prepped for a run on Jeopardy. Now, according to a report in the The New York Times, that could happen as early as this fall.

According to the report, IBM officials over the past few months have run Watson through a number of mock Jeopardy contests against former Jeopardy contestants in a conference room at the tech vendor's Hawthorne, N.Y., lab facility.

The supercomputer won some games and lost others, and now the producers of Jeopardy are ready to put the computer on television to face some of the game show's top former contestants.

The contest will make for entertaining viewing, but Watson, which has been under development for more than three years, will have real business applications, according to IBM officials. It will make it easier for businesses to more quickly find the information they're looking for. Rather than sending out a search request on Google and Bing and getting a list of documents that may match what you're looking for, a more advanced question answering machine like Watson will be able to find the information based on a question that uses natural language.

According to The New York Times article, a number of technology companies have been creating question-answering machines, usually by having people manually input all the knowledge into the computers, then creating links within the database of information that let the machine know the connections.

Over the last decade, IBM was able to use two trends to get past these challenges: computers became more powerful, and huge amounts of data were digitized, which meant that humans no longer had to input the information by hand.

John Kelly, head of IBM Labs, said the company may begin to sell commercial versions of Watson within the next two years, and envisions models that can be customized for particular verticals, including health care, retail and transportation.