Saturday, February 12, 2011

Watson competes on Jeopardy

Watson is a computer developed by IBM researchers with the goal of competing on the game show Jeopardy. Watson's appearance on Jeopardy is in only two days, during which it will compete against the planet's two best human Jeopardy players, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Watson will be appearing on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.

This is a publicity event for IBM in the same spirit as the 1997 six-game chess match in which Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov. But this is much more important. Deep Blue's technology was applicable only to chess and other deterministic games, amounting to a deep search of the tree of possible future moves.

Watson uses a much broader range of technologies in natural language processing, data mining, machine learning, and resolving ambiguities of communication. It is much likelier that work done on Watson will be applicable to really important problems in medicine, economics, foreign policy, and other areas where there is a significant opportunity to raise the quality of human life.

I don't ordinarily go around recommending that people watch a particular television program, but I'll make an exception here. I'll make this easy: go to Jeopardy's When-to-Watch page, click on your state, and see history unfold. As if Egypt wasn't enough history unfolding for the month of February. If you're in the Boston area, Jeopardy is at 7:30 PM on WBZ (channel 4).

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