IBM computer system, Watson.

Watson's success on game show boosts support for humanitarian supercomputer

An IBM computer’s win on United States game show Jeopardy! has led to a boost in support for a supercomputer that helps scientists solve humanitarian challenges.

Last week, Watson, a computer named after IBM founder Thomas J Watson, beat two human competitors on the popular quiz show. Watson was built by a team of IBM scientists who set out to accomplish a grand challenge – build a computing system that rivals a human's ability to answer questions posed in natural language with speed, accuracy and confidence.

But Watson was not the only computer system to win from the game show challenge; another IBM computer system saw a massive boost in support after the three-day showdown concluded.

World Community Grid, a virtual supercomputer that helps scientists solve humanitarian challenges by tapping the unused computing power of personal computers around the world, saw a 700 per cent spike in the number of people who normally volunteer their computers’ spare power for the effort.

A spokesperson for IBM said that on an average day about 175 people signed up, but the day after the challenge, more than 1300 people joined.

Scientists who use World Community Grid are also set to receive $500,000 in IBM Jeopardy! challenge prize money.

World Community Grid, an initiative of the IBM International Foundation, has created the equivalent of one of the world's largest virtual supercomputers designed to tackle projects that benefit humanity, such as new treatments for HIV/AIDS, cancer research, and affordable water purification.

World Community Grid works by pooling the unused power of 1.7 million personal computers from 535,000 volunteers in more than 80 countries.  It then makes this computational power available for scientists who might not otherwise be able to afford the high speed computing they require for timely research.

Stanley S Litow, IBM vice president of Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs and President of IBM’s Foundation, said Watson’s performance on Jeopardy! had "captured the imagination of millions of viewers who understand the power of computing to benefit humanity".

"Like Watson, World Community Grid is also a game changer. We're grateful for the skyrocketing interest in World Community Grid as a result of Watson's achievement," Litow said.

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