I'll take supercomputers on game shows for $1,000, Alex

IBM's "Watson" to compete on Jeopardy

IBM, a company with a history of developing cutting-edge computers, will test its newest creation by competing on "Jeopardy." This February, the company’s Watson computing system will go head-to-head with two of the show’s top contestants.

Named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, the computer was created as part of a company effort to build a machine that could match or surpass a human’s ability to answer questions presented in natural language with speed, accuracy and confidence. According to IBM, the show’s format offers the ideal challenge because the game’s clues require the computer to perform those tasks humans excel at: analyzing subtle meaning, irony, riddles and other language-based complexities.

Watson’s technology is intended to be applied to a variety of fields. Because the computer is able to sift through volumes of data and provide precise answers based on the machine’s confidence, the system could be used in areas such as health care, to help diagnose patients, improve online self-service help desks, provide phone-based customer support, or to support intelligence analysts.

The computer’s software is driven by an IBM Power 7 server optimized to manage the massive number of high speed tasks that the machine must perform to analyze complex language to deliver correct responses to "Jeopardy" clues. IBM said that the system includes a number of proprietary technologies to handle the volumes of specialized processing and data analysis tasks in real time.

Dr. David Ferrucci, the lead scientist of the IBM research team that created Watson, said that after four years of development, he believes the machine is ready for the challenge. In the fall of 2010, Watson played more than 50 “sparring games” against former top "Jeopardy" contestants as a final preparation for the televised event. IBM officials also noted that Watson has taken and passed the same test human "Jeopardy" players must take to participate in the show.

The human/machine competition will air on Feb. 14, 15 and 16, 2011, with two matches being played over three consecutive days. Watson will compete against the two highest scoring players to appear on "Jeopardy": Ken Jennings, who won 74 consecutive games during the 2004-2005 season, and Brad Rutter, who won the highest cumulative amount ever by a single "Jeopardy" player, earning $3,255,102.

Here is a short video about IBM's Watson program.

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