IBM's Watson gets its Jeopardy warm-up

Summary:IBM's Watson supercomputer---a Linux system that's powered by 10 refrigerator-sized racks of IBM Power 7 Systems---will get its big warm-up for its Jeopardy showdown with two former champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

IBM's Watson supercomputer---a Linux system that's powered by 10 refrigerator-sized racks of IBM Power 7 Systems---will get its big warm-up for its Jeopardy showdown with two former champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

At IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown, Watson is set for a practice round in against Jennings and Rutter. Watson will take on Jennings and Rutter for a $1 million prize Feb. 14, 15 and 16. Watson will play Jennings and Rutter on Friday for the February broadcasts.

John Kelly III, director of IBM Research, said Watson has come along greatly in the last four years to the point where it can be a real competitor to humans.

David Ferrucci, principal investigator of Watson DeepQA technology, said that to play Jeopardy, Watson needs to navigate broad questions, unstructured data and justifying a correct answer. DeepQA uses thousands of algorithms to test hypotheses and pick an answer. Watson needs precision, confidence and speed. Four years ago, Watson took two hours to answer a question. Now Watson can do it in 3 seconds due to better processors and optimized systems.

For IBM, Watson is a way to show off its computing and analytics prowess. Watson is designed to also show the artificial intelligence possibilities. IBM said its Watson research could lead to advances in a verticals such as healthcare. In conversations with IBM execs I also note that Big Blue is basically building Skynet. They always have a nervous laugh at that one.

The interest in Watson is far ranging---press ranging from the usual tech blog suspects to Entertainment Tonight was on scene. That's what happens when you have a few IBM wonks mixed in with Alex Trebek, host of Jeopardy.

It's unclear whether Watson vs. the Jeopardy champs will be a fair fight. The tale of the tape seems to favor Watson. To wit:

  • Watson can pore through 200 million pages of natural language content.
  • It has 15 terabytes of RAM and 2,880 processor cores.
  • Operates at 80 teraflops.

Here's more on Watson (click on the chart to enlarge):

We'll be back with more from the press conference and Jeopardy match.

Topics: IBM, Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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