Human vs. machine: IBM supercomputer takes on 'Jeopardy!'

In what could be a leap for AI, IBM programs Watson to take on quiz show champs

Who could possibly unseat the best Jeopardy! players in the history of the game show, Alex?

The answer to that question just might be: an IBM supercomputer.

IBM Monday unveiled Watson, an advanced computing system that engineers hope will be able to compete against humans on the long-running game show Jeopardy!. And the show's producers seem to be up for the challenge as they are soon expected to announce plans to air a show pitting human against machine.

Watson's new Question Answering (QA) software, under development for the past two years, is designed to understand complex questions and to answer them quickly enough to compete on a rapid-fire show like Jeopardy!, according to IBM. IBM noted that to succeed the software will have to be able to understand nuanced questions, slang and riddles, making it -- if it works as advertised -- a leap forward in artificial intelligence.

"The essence of making decisions is recognizing patterns in vast amounts of data, sorting through choices and options, and responding quickly and accurately," said IBM CEO Samuel Palmisano in a statement. "Watson is a compelling example of how the planet -- companies, industries, cities -- is becoming smarter. With advanced computing power and deep analytics, we can infuse business and societal systems with intelligence. This project is the latest example of IBM's longstanding commitment to fundamental research and to overcoming 'grand challenges' in science and technology."

There is, though, a lot still not known about this advanced computer.

Ari Fishkind, a spokesman for IBM, told Computerworld that they're not sure what the configuration for the computer will look like. No word on what chips it will run, how fast it will be able to process data or how big it will be. Fishkind also said there's no word on when Watson will be rolled out or when it will appear on an episode of Jeopardy.

Whatever Watson becomes, IBM researchers are hoping it will be an intelligent system capable of working with humans.

"The challenge is to build a system that, unlike systems before it, can rival the human mind's ability to determine precise answers to natural language questions and to compute accurate confidence in the answers," said David Ferrucci, leader of IBM's Watson project team, in a statement. "This confidence processing ability is key. It greatly distinguishes the IBM approach from conventional search, and is critical to implementing useful business applications of Question Answering."

Twelve years ago, another IBM computer - this one called Deep Blue - competed on another gaming stage. Deep Blue defeated World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov in what has become a famous battle of human vs. machine. That machine was built to calculate 200 million chess moves per second.

Last fall, IBM's Roadrunner inched out a beefed up Cray Inc. XT5 Jaguar system to retain the top spot on the biannual Top500 list of supercomputers.

The IBM Roadrunner, which is installed at Los Alamos National Laboratory, is able to hit 1.105 petaflops, or more than a quadrillion mathematical calculations per second. Cray's Jaguar, the second of only two computers to break the petaflop barrier, grabbed second place on the list, with a top performance of 1.059 petaflops running the Linpack benchmark application.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags supercomputersIBMjeopardyRoadrunner

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?