Rensselaer Alumni Magazine - Spring 2012 - (Page 27)
om ga From a TV game show to the doctor’s office, IBM’s Watson leads the way.
ne Giant Step One Gi ompu for Computing
society will look back on a unique 2011 pop culture and science/technology demonstration and consider it a moon landing of sorts in the computer science arena. That threeday demonstration last February pitted IBM’s astounding Watson computer against the all-time champions of Jeopardy!, among the oldest and most popular of all TV game shows. It was also rich in connections to Rensselaer, the most notable of which is IBM scientist and Watson team leader David Ferrucci, Ph.D. ’94. Watson was developed by a team of 25 IBM researchers and scientists over the last eight years at the company’s Hawthorne, N.Y., labs. Named for IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, the system represents advanced computer architecture that combines the best of natural language processing, computational linguistics,
PHOTO BY MARK MCCARTY
information retrieval, game theory, machine learning, and other computing disciplines. In short, Watson is smart and it talks our language—a theme echoed by the many journalists who covered the event last year. The initial challenge of the team was to find a way for all those features to work together, often in less than a second, to respond to heavily nuanced Jeopardy! categories and answers with the right questions. The ultimate goal, however, was to unlock the door to a future where computer systems that are expert in “Q&A” can start to mimic us in listening, learning, and speaking and, more important, start acting as a critical, interactive “assistant” to us in areas ranging from health care to business. B Y M A R K M A R C H A N D
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