Enterprising Developments

Elementary, My Dear Watson: Can a Machine Win at Jeopardy?

Joe McKendrick
Insurance Experts' Forum, January 18, 2011

Answer: John Tukey coined this compound word in 1958 saying it was as important as "tubes, transistors, wires, tapes ..."

Correct question: What is computer science?

The TV game show Jeopardy! often poses fairly straightforward topics. Often, though, ascertaining the questions and answers requires some awareness of cultural trends, idioms. and double meanings.

We know computers can win at chess, but that can be aided by a massive database of strategies and counter-moves. Could a highly intelligent computer win at a game show such as Jeopardy?

We'll find out on February 14, 15 and 16, when IBM's Watson supercomputer plays two of the game show's all-time reining champs in two matches being played over three consecutive days.

This is more than a stunt—this exercise, under development for several years in the IBM labs, is intended to push the envelope of artificial intelligence to see if computers can attain the same reasoning power as human beings.

As recently described in The New York Times, IBM selected Jeopardy! because the format of the game involves clues involve analyzing subtle meaning, irony, riddles and other complexities in which humans excel and computers traditionally do not.

A computer with Watson's power now has the capability to sift through vast data stores and return precise answers, ranking its confidence in its answers. For starters, the technology could be applied in areas such as health care, to help accurately diagnose patients, to customer service and help desks,

Technology doubles in capabilities every 18 months, and it may take less than a decade for a computer with Watson's power to be widely available to everyone.

A video of a practice match conducted this week between Watson and the Jeopardy! super-champs, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, who collectively won almost $6 million on Jeopardy! episodes, was captured and posted by Engadget. Looking at and listening to Watson, I couldn't help being reminded of the computer Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Hmmm—can Watson sing "Daisy" for us, too?

Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Joe using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at joe@mckendrickresearch.com.

This blog was exclusively written for Insurance Networking News. It may not be reposted or reused without permission from Insurance Networking News.

The opinions of bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.

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