Saturday, January 15, 2011

The war against the machines has started ...

... at least on Jeopardy!

IBM has been developing an AI system that can "understand" and answer questions. Dubbed "Watson", in honour of the company's founder Thomas J. Watson, it is able to parse a question given in natural language (i.e. in english), and to find answers in its gigantic databases.

To push this a step further, the DeepQA team, lead by Dr. David Ferrucci, developed it into a form that can play Jeopardy!, namely, understand the question and context, look for possible answers, select the most plausible and present it as a question.

And that under 3 seconds.

For example, in a video on the Jeopardy! page, the question was "As Juliet knows, this 9-letter word means 'why'". Watson correctly answered "What is wherefore?". In order to respond correctly, it had to determine that:
  • The expected answer is to be found in Romeo and Juliet
  • The expected answer is a 9-letter word
  • The expected answer has to mean "why"
In some cases, the question or the context can be slang, or even use double-entendre. In most of the cases, Watson picks the correct answers.

On February 14,15 and 16, Watson will play in front of the audience in a real Jeopardy! From the news, it already beat the two best players during free games. I guess the real show will be extremely exciting to watch.

Direct link to the Jeopardy! minisite on Watson
More information on Watson from IBM

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