Five Questions for IBM on Watson, Jeopardy, and Real-World Applications for Sophisticated Analytics

In mid-February, IBM’s Watson computer was the biggest star on television. In a three-day tournament against former Jeopardy champs Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, Watson was the hands-down champion, winning more than $77,000.

To create Watson, IBM had to engineer analytics technology that could sift through the equivalent of one million books and find a single correct answer—all in less than three seconds. What’s more, the computer had to be able to understand subtleties in the English language, such as puns.

Now IBM, which is headquartered in Armonk, NY, is taking on an even bigger challenge: how to transform Watson’s talents into analytic tools for businesses in a wide range of industries.

Leading the charge is Rod Smith, vice president of IBM Emerging Internet Technologies. Xconomy New York talked with Smith about Watson—and how the computer might help companies solve problems that are much more challenging than the Daily Double.

Xconomy: In a nutshell, what is the technology behind Watson’s ability to answer Jeopardy questions in three seconds?

Rod Smith: There were two things we really leveraged in Watson. First we figured out how to get Watson to take questions apart and look at many interpretations.

Then, in parallel, he kicked off searches on lots of different search engines.

As information came back, it was weighted—it had a probability of being correct. That probability was based not only on the information, but also … Next Page »

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