Thursday, February 17, 2011

Congrats to IBM on Watson's Win on Jeopardy and to All Researchers Who Contributed!

If you have not heard, the supercomputer named "Watson" beat two humans on Jeopardy, and garnered, or its developer, IBM, did, the one million dollar prize!

As reported in The New York Times:

Facing certain defeat at the hands of a room-size I.B.M. computer on Wednesday evening, Ken Jennings, famous for winning 74 games in a row on the TV quiz show, acknowledged the obvious. “I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords.” he wrote on his video screen.

From now on, if the answer is “the computer champion on “Jeopardy!,” the question will be, “What is Watson?”

For I.B.M., the showdown was not merely a well-publicized stunt, but proof that the company has taken a big step toward a world in which intelligent machines will understand and respond to humans, and perhaps inevitably, replace some of them. The Times article is already noting how IBM is pursuing medical applications with the technology behind the question answering computer.

However, Watson was not perfect and, in an answer, had Toronto being a city in the United States. Time for a Geography Bee competition.

UMass Amherst and MIT contributed to the technology behind Watson. The Boston Globe ran a nice report on the research done in Massachusetts that contributed to its success.

The UMass contribution to Watson was information retrieval technology that helps Watson in the very first steps it takes when it is challenged with a question, allowing it to look for and retrieve text that is most likely to contain accurate answers.

“Our system zips through all the possible resources and puts virtual Post-it notes where the answers might be,’’ said Professor James Allan of the Computer Science Department at UMass Amherst. “Then we turn those results over to other systems to go deeper.’’

According to a press release issued earlier by UMass Amherst, which details other contributors, Watson is named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson and was built by IBM scientists who wanted to create a computing system to rival a human’s ability to answer questions posed in natural language with speed, accuracy and confidence. The "Jeopardy!" format provides the ultimate challenge because the game’s clues involve analyzing subtle meaning, irony, riddles and other complexities in which humans excel but computers traditionally do not.

Speaking of IBM, Dr. Brenda Dietrich, VP of IBM in the Research Divisions, will be giving a plenary talk at the Northeast Regional INFORMS Conference at UMass Amherst, May 6-7, 2011. Her plenary abstract is below.

Plenary Abstract

A smarter planet is emerging, through instrumentation of physical entities, the integration of information and control enabled by this instrumentation, and the intelligence to manage the entities efficiently and effectively. Examples include transportation systems, buildings, electrical grids, health care systems, governments, and supply chains. Achieving this smarter planet vision requires extensive data analysis, modeling, and optimization - in short, the application of operations research. In this talk some early examples of the use of OR to enable this vision will be described. Our field's potential and some emerging challenges will also be discussed.

And, if you want to learn even more about Watson, you may listen to the INFORMS podcast with Stephen Baker.