IBM's Watson challenging 'Jeopardy!' champions

It is happening... the evolution of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is proceeding full speed ahead in the computing world.

You probably remember Deep Blue. The machine from IBM that was able to beat World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov in a chess tournament in May, 1997. And although quite impressive, its sole focus was to play and understand chess. So, its AI capabilities were somewhat debatable.

By Childman1204 (Own work - available in Wikimedia)

What would you say if another machine developed by IBM, Watson, was not only able to answer questions from a very large set of topics, but even overcome the nuances of language? That's what Watson will be doing, when it faces two of the best 'Jeopardy!' champions: Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter on a tournament of  the famous TV game show. Watson is the logical continuation of the AI work done earlier by IBM with Deep Blue. What would the next AI be able to do?

The first article I read about Watson was written by Clive Thomson for the New York Times Magazine (June 16, 2010): What is I.B.M.'s Watson? (Access to this article may require free registration in the NYT. It is really worth it, if you find this subject interesting, as it is very well written and clearly explains the advances made in the field). Ever since I read it, I have been waiting to see the actual Jeopardy! challenge tournament. At least this time I will be able to understand and follow the game, unlike the first famous mental challenge between man and machine.

So, if you prefer watching this AI in action, I recommend the upcoming NOVA episode, "Smartest Machine on Earth" scheduled for Feb. 9, 2011 at 10 pm in PBS stations. (I'm going to set the reminder on my TV - assuming it is aired in my area). And to watch the complete AI vs Human encounter, the Jeopardy! IBM Challenge make note of February 14, 15 and 16, 2011, when the tournament will air. Those dates are already  marked in my calendar.

"Twin" of Deep Blue in Computer History Museum - courtesy of James the photographer
[CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

References for this topic:

1. Guest essays written about AI, Deep Blue and Chess (from  a very short story by Arthur C. Clark to an in-depth essay by Dr. David G. Stork): http://www.research.ibm.com/deepblue/learn/html/e.html

2. Overview page by IBM on things related to Deep Blue: http://www.research.ibm.com/deepblue/learn/html/e.html

3. In-depth article: "What is I.B.M.'s Watson?" in the NYT Magazine: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/20/magazine/20Computer-t.html?ref=magazine

4. Deep Blue article from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_Blue_(chess_computer)

5. Article on Watson (AI software): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watson_(artificial_intelligence_software)

6. NOVA, Smartest Machine on Earth: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/smartest-machine-on-earth.html
(this PBS site has a preview of the upcoming Feb. 9, 2011 episode on Watson)

7. IBM site explaining Watson: http://www-03.ibm.com/innovation/us/watson/what-is-watson/index.html

8. Jeopardy! mini-site about the IBM Challenge: http://www.jeopardy.com/minisites/watson/