Later today, IBM's Watson will start playing Jeopardy on national TV in a three match contest running over three days. Doesn't IBM have anything better to do with its marketing and R&D dollars? Of course it does but this display of man v machine promises to be a fascinating experiment that assesses how far the 5 year old project has progressed.
Late last week, I had a conversation with Vijay Vijayasankar, an IBM associate partner and fellow SAP Mentor. He has been following this topic for some time and believes it represents one of the most exciting things he has seen in computing for many years. He is not alone. In other conversations with IBM'ers, I get a genuine sense of anticipation and a belief that the company is developing something that is truly groundbreaking. If correct then perhaps for the first time, we will see compute power that is capable of extricating itself from the dumb rules based methods of decision taking and process creation that do little better than automate 80% of what works.
In the above video, Vijay explains what Watson can do and shares his opinions about how this might prove useful in the real world of natural language search and, longer term, business intelligence. I see a borader vision, one where machines are capable of understanding where processes break down and become self healing. That may be many years away but the prospect is tantalising.
Although some may see this as a curiosity and arcane science project the fact remains that finding answers to problems is difficult. IBM hopes that Watson's natural language processing capability will start to provide us with a better means of problem resolution. Think of it like HAL from 2001 but with good intent. Or, as Vijay says:
Winning is not the big deal here - and while I hope Watson wins hands down on 14th - I am just excited that such an amazing concept could be brought to life in just about 3 years or so. AI has been a topic out of the realms of the enterprise for the most part, and now we realize how close we are to reaping benefits from this.
While I am not a game show fan, Jeopardy promises to be intriguing. Will it be the darling of the Valentine's Day show? Share your thoughts in talkback.