I, For One, Welcome Our New Computer Overlords

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Last night, IBM’s Watson computer won the final round of the three-day Man V. Machine Jeopardy! competition. At the beginning of the show, the humans were fierce, proving that they could buzz in faster than Watson, even though the machine knew the answer. But by the time Final Jeopardy came around, Watson was ahead and was able to decipher the clue: “William Wilkinson’s ‘an account of the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia’ inspired this authors’s most famous novel” and provide the question, “Who is Bram Stoker?”

Both human competitors, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, got it correct as well. But I give Jennings additional kudos for his humorous parenthetical, “I for one welcome our new computer overloads.” Nice job. The final scores were:

  • Rutter: $21,600
  • Jennings: $24,000
  • Watson: $77,147

But although Watson won the competition, humans still prevailed. Afterall, Watson was designed by a team of dedicated researchers who spent years building out its 90 servers and customizing hundreds of algorithms that produce precise answers. A tremendous amount of science has gone into developing this machine. In this video from IBM, you can hear more about it, but essentially Watson is comprised of natural language processing, machine learning, knowledge representation and reasoning and analytics. When it’s given a task, like coming up with a question to Jeopardy! clue, many computer processors work together in parallel to come up with the solution.  

Slideshow: Top Man Vs. Machine Moments

On Jeopardy!, Watson provided those solutions in as little as 3 seconds. But what is this computer’s future in our world? In short, such a computer can extract intelligence from the information overload (overload, not overlord) we experience daily in our lives.

In this video from IBM, project researchers describe how a computer system like Watson could be capable of reading an unlimited number of documents, understanding the information and completely retaining it. Now, imagine that you could ask Watson a question and receive an answer in the time it takes one to press the button on a Jeopardy! buzzer.

Financial companies could use a computer like Watson to read and analyze news reports, market reports, trade publications, world events, blogs — you name it — and extract meaningful information for investors or business owners. A computer like Watson could also be used in healthcare to more accurately diagnosis disease based on the patient’s history as well as what’s in the medical literature. A doctor could discover in seconds what the best treatment might be as well as the likely outcome.

I think Watson is agreat achievement of our time. Congrats to everyone on IBM who helped make it happen.