So Watson can win a TV game show, but what’s that got to do with the enterprise? Elaine Graham investigates cognitive computing
In May 1997, a smart new computer built by IBM, called ‘Deep Blue’, trounced the world chess master, Gary Kasparov.
In February 2011, IBM did it again: its latest intelligent computer, dubbed Watson after IBM’s founder, bested the two reigning champions of the popular quiz game, Jeopardy! This was a showcase moment for IT, ushering in a new era of computing: machines that can think and communicate in a human-like way.
Needless to say, Watson did not appear fully formed from the drawing tables of IBM. Bringing it into being was the result of many decades of industry research in artificial intelligence (AI), the internet, search engine technology, robotics, natural language QA, analytics, and a host of other innovations.
During the contest, Watson – which was not connected to the Internet during the show – sifted, sorted, compared, matched, analysed and crunched millions of pages of information on dozens of possible topics, which had been fed in beforehand.
It then rated possible answers according to degrees of confidence, selected the best answer, and issued them in a voice that was hard to distinguish from the two human panellists. It accomplished all of this in under three seconds.