Feeds

IBM pits Watson super against humanity

This time, we're in Jeopardy

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

"This downtown boy met and married an uptown girl." On the popular Jeopardy game show, such a statement functions like a question in terms of being a piece of input data that expects one and only one bit of output data, in this case an actual question: "Who is Billy Joel?"

While playing the Jeopardy game is not all that difficult for human beings, being good at such trivia is decidedly non-trivial. For a supercomputer - even one crammed full of data - being able to suss out the double-entendres and little nuances of the statements and come up with the question is a very tough challenge. According to researchers at IBM, playing Jeopardy is in fact one of the grand challenges of computing - which is why a BlueGene massively parallel supercomputer, nicknamed Watson, is being trained to play the game and to take on people live in the studio in 2010.

The Jeopardy challenge is akin to the Deep Blue parallel supercomputer taking on chess champion Gary Kasparov. In 1996, it lost, but it won a six-game match by one game (two wins for Deep Blue, one for Kasparov, and three draws) the next year.

Back in the mid-1990s, IBM was a joke in the supercomputing racket, and Cray and Silicon Graphics were building the truly innovative and powerful machines and cheap x86-Linux clusters were just starting to get traction. IBM's Power2 and PowerPC processors were 32-bit chips with nothing much impressive about them and its 64-bit PowerPC 620 and 630 parts were utter failures and would not come out for several years. (Ironically, the 64-bit PowerPC AS chips that were tucked inside of AS/400 minicomputers in the summer of 1995 were excellent processors, but IBM's Unix server nerds didn't see the wisdom of using these chips until 1997. Those AS/400 Power chips form the basis of IBM's advances in the Unix space).

So back when Deep Blue was announced, to say that IBM had something to prove is a bit of an understatement. IBM had to show that it could do parallel supercomputing, and the chess match with Kasparov is probably the smartest PR stunt that Big Blue has pulled since it was incorporated in 1911.

With the Watson machine and the Jeopardy challenge, IBM doesn't have to prove it knows supercomputing. In the past decade, IBM has put its system engineers, scientists working at IBM research facilities around the globe, and numerous supercomputing experts from government and academic labs to build a portfolio of different parallel computing platforms, including the massively parallel BlueGene to the hybrid x64-Cell blade architecture embodied in the "Roadrunner" to giant clusters of its commercial Power Systems such as the future "Blue Waters" Power7 monster.

What IBM is trying to prove with the Watson supercomputer - and the question answering (QA) software it is developing to run atop it - is that computers can be pumped full of textual data from many different sources and answer questions. The flipping around of question and answer like Jeopardy does changes the basic problem very little, according to David Ferrucci, Watson project lead and the principal researcher working on the Watson QA software and the iron that will support it.

"We're trying to get the computer to deal with natural language more effectively," says Ferrucci. "Since Jeopardy is such a large domain, it is like we are trying to get the computer to study. Of course, the challenge is that the game has such a broad domain and people play with such confidence."

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

Next page: Answer Engine

More from The Register

next story
Docker's app containers are coming to Windows Server, says Microsoft
MS chases app deployment speeds already enjoyed by Linux devs
'Hmm, why CAN'T I run a water pipe through that rack of media servers?'
Leaving Las Vegas for Armenia kludging and Dubai dune bashing
'Urika': Cray unveils new 1,500-core big data crunching monster
6TB of DRAM, 38TB of SSD flash and 120TB of disk storage
Facebook slurps 'paste sites' for STOLEN passwords, sprinkles on hash and salt
Zuck's ad empire DOESN'T see details in plain text. Phew!
SDI wars: WTF is software defined infrastructure?
This time we play for ALL the marbles
Windows 10: Forget Cloudobile, put Security and Privacy First
But - dammit - It would be insane to say 'don't collect, because NSA'
Oracle hires former SAP exec for cloudy push
'We know Larry said cloud was gibberish, and insane, and idiotic, but...'
Symantec backs out of Backup Exec: Plans to can appliance in Jan
Will still provide support to existing customers
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.