If you haven’t heard, IBM has built a masterpiece of a machine that is scheduled to compete in Jeopardy against the best two contestants to ever grace the show: Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. The show is scheduled to air February 14-16, but the taping is occurring over the next couple of days with a practice round performed today in front of an audience invited by Jeopardy and IBM. In the practice round Ken, Brad, and Watson managed to knock out three categories with 100% accuracy and at the end of the practice Watson was leading with $4,400 over Ken’s $3,400 and Brad’s $1,200.
The reason IBM chose Jeopardy is that the trivia show inherently favors humans over machines. There are endless idioms and turns of phrase that allow a human contestant to pick up on clues to allow them to answer questions faster that a normal computer would be blind to. Information recall is simple for computers and hard for humans while contextual clues and comprehension are a far easier process for humans than computers. Watson is not only able to pick up on contextual clues and generate the questions to the Jeopardy answers, but it is also able to measure how confident it is in those answers and will only answer a question if the confidence is above a set threshold. In recent live tests with humans, Watson was able to buzz in about 50% of the time and answer 95% of the questions correctly, putting it at a level that matches some of Jeopardy’s top competitors.
There are seemingly infinite applications for Watson. At the Jeopardy event today IBM seemed keen on getting Watson into the health care field touting that Watson would be able to read your medical history and test results in an instant giving a helping hand to diagnosticians. Another application would be search. Google search is considered the best in the industry right now, but to work properly it requires a human to think like a computer and pick out keywords that will result in the best search. Ask Watson a question in plain English, on the other hand, and you will be returned with the answer you are looking for. Watson truly is what AskJeeves.com tried to be. Unfortunately, such programming and computer power does come at a cost. To purchase the computing power required to run a program like Watson would cost over $1 million. IBM intends to bring the software and computer system to market and believes as computing power increases the cost will fall quickly.