Computer system to compete in top TV quiz show

IBM has unveiled a Question Answering (QA) computing system that will compete with humans on the top-rated US TV quiz show ‘Jeopardy!’ Named Watson, its developers claim that the system will be able to match and beat human contestants’ skill at understanding complex questions, and answer them with equal speed and precision.

Incorporating massively parallel analytical capabilities based on Blue Gene supercomputer platforms, Watson, like ‘Jeopardy!’s human competitors, will not be connected to the Internet, or have any outside assistance.

‘Jeopardy!’ covers a broad range of topics, like history, literature, politics, science, and popular culture. Clues given to contestants require analysing subtle meaning, irony, riddles, and other complexities at which humans excel, and computers – traditionally – do not.

Watson is built on IBM’s core DeepQA technology for hypothesis generation, massive evidence gathering, analysis, and scoring. It is designed to handle semantics which will enable it to answer questions that require the identification of relevant and irrelevant content, interpretation of ambiguous expression and puns, the decomposition of questions into sub-questions, and the logical synthesis of final answers. Watson also computes a statistical confidence rating in the responses it provides.

“According to IBM’s analysis, the best ‘Jeopardy!’ players provide correct responses more than 85 per cent of the time; that is, they have better than 85 per cent precision,” comments Watson project director Dave Ferrucci. “For the clues that champion players believe they can answer, they deliver the correct response – not a document containing the answer or a related answer, but the single correct response – greater than 85 per cent of the time. They also ‘know what they don’t know’, and choose not to answer questions when they are unsure, as in ‘Jeopardy!’ there is a penalty for being wrong.”

Watson’s first step toward TV victory will be to demonstrate its worthiness to play against ‘Jeopardy!’ champions by competing in sparring matches starting later in 2009. A final match-up is planned for sometime next year.

Beyond gameshow stardom, Ferrucci says that Watson has a career in financial services, investment fraud mitigation, banking compliance, and retail applications.
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