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The Power of Watson

POWER7 shines in the man-vs.-machine ‘Jeopardy!’ challenge


IBM’s “Jeopardy!”-playing Watson

IBM focuses on two types of innovation—improving existing products and advancing science in a linear, incremental way, and grand challenges that seek to push the limits of science past enormous gaps in capability. The company married these two approaches when it built Watson—using the latest iteration of its ever-improving POWER* technology to accomplish the grand challenge of a computer that can communicate more fluently and understand and quickly answer natural-language questions well enough to compete on the popular game show “Jeopardy!”

A workload-optimized POWER7* system provides unmatched capabilities for processing thousands of simultaneous tasks rapidly. Power Systems* servers incorporate several industry-unique technologies for the specialized demands of new applications and services that rely on processing an enormous number of concurrent transactions and data while analyzing that information in real time. That’s exactly what Watson needed to understand complex natural-language clues, analyze the massive amounts of data and perform the concurrent tasks needed to return an answer and determine its probability of correctness—all in about three seconds before it buzzes in.

Natural-Language Processing

Since the beginning of the computer age, scientists and writers have envisioned a system that can directly and precisely answer natural-language questions over an open and broad range of knowledge. Ultimately, broad and accurate open-domain question answering may represent a crowning achievement for the field of artificial intelligence.

“While current computers can store and deliver a wealth of digital content created by humans, they’re unable to operate over it in human terms,” says Ron Kalla, distinguished engineer and the chief engineer who led development of the POWER7 chip that powers Watson. “The quest for building a computer system that can do open-domain question answering is ultimately driven by a broader vision that sees computers operating in human terms rather than strictly computer terms.”

Though it involves a game, the IBM “Jeopardy!” challenge poses questions with real business implications. Watson represents IBM’s most ambitious foray into deep analytics and natural-language processing. IBM is using the game show as a playing field to advance science because the nature of the game drives the technology in the right directions. A system that applies advanced data management and analytics to natural language to uncover a single, reliable insight—all in a fraction of a second—could be a game changer in many industries.

Tom Brandes is a freelance writer for variety of subjects, including technology, healthcare, manufacturing, sustainability and more.



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