Watson 2.0: How IBM's Victorious 'Jeopardy!" Computer Could Get Even Better
Watson answers the last clue correctly in the Single Jeopardy round aired last night (Feb. 16).
With a resounding victory under its belt against brainiac former "Jeopardy!" champs, what's next for IBM's Watson computer?
In its present form, Watson, of course, is not for sale. And any applications that Watson's natural language, question-answering technology may have in health care, finance and customer service will require some custom-tailoring.
As impressive as Watson was on "Jeopardy!", the computer has significant room for improvement, from both a hardware (Watson's "body") and a software (its "brain") perspective.
How much of a cultural impact Watson will have remains to be seen. In the immediate term, artificial intelligence (AI) research would certainly seem to stand to benefit from all the exposure the Watson contest received, and the intelligent machine's walking away with a win doesn't hurt, either.
Gauging the big win
At the culmination of the two-game tournament, Watson had won $77,147 to Ken Jennings' $24,000 and Brad Rutter's $21,600. Unlike the first game, which Watson dominated, last night's aired contest was tight, with the Final Jeopardy round deciding the outcome. [Read: Day 1 and Day 2 Recap and Analysis of Watson Versus "Jeopardy!"'s Brightest Humans]
But Watson's triumph is really just a bonus of the machine having performing as intended.
"I don’t think the victory itself is the important thing," said Ted Senator, vice president and technical fellow at the Science Applications International Corp., secretary-treasurer of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence and a former "Jeopardy!" champ himself. "I think the fact that [Watson] could play at the level of and better than champion players is important."
In this manner and in many other respects, Watson's win echoes the last so-called Grand Challenge IBM undertook: a chess match against the top-ranked human player on the planet. That celebrated computer, dubbed Deep Blue, defeated chess master Garry Kasparov when they met for a second tournament in 1997.
Deep Blue represented the culmination of AI research into chess, and masterful chess playing did not offer the range of evident applications that Watson does.
"In terms of AI research, in contrast with Deep Blue, [that computer's victory] sort of stopped chess as a domain of AI research," Senator said. Watson's win will not put a halt to question answering, Senator said; "In fact, I think it will have the opposite effect."
Better, faster, stronger
Although numerous other efforts to parse the surprising complexities of everyday human language are ongoing, none have the sort of attention – or budget – that IBM has had and will likely continue to have with the Watson project.
Which begs the question: Just how much better could Watson get?
For the "Jeopardy!" match, Watson consisted of 10 refrigerator-size servers loaded with approximately 200 million pages of text including encyclopedia, thesauri, books, screenplays and more, plus thousands of algorithms to comb through those materials.
Watson's technology could be scaled up to any size, however; it could be 12 more advanced servers, or a hundred servers linked up across a continent.
Senator wondered what Watson would be like if IBM had "twice as many computers in that back room, or fed it twice as much material or more algorithms." What ultimately determined Watson's game-day form and abilities was IBM figuring when the machine was "good enough" to battle in the "Jeopardy!" arena.
"Would more time or more money from IBM improve [Watson's] performance?" Senator asked." Is it limited by [IBM's] investment or by technology?"
Watson on the Web
One clear way that future deployed commercial versions of Watson might get a technological leg-up is by connecting to the Internet.
A key feature of Watson was that it was like the brains in our skulls: a self-contained, limited reservoir of information (albeit a very large one in Watson's case). Accordingly, a Watson-esque system could be made much smaller and perhaps far more powerful if its memory and processing power were stored and accessed "in the cloud ." And just as we rely on search engines and the Internet to look up things, a Watson-derived system could double-check its results.
Then again, Senator is not so sure if being online would necessarily be a benefit for some Watson-style applications. "The Web has a lot of stuff that’s true, and a lot of stuff that’s not true," Senator said.
Of course, as in so many machine apocalypse stories such as "Terminator," it is the hooking up a vastly powerful artificial intelligence to the world wide network that leads to humankind's doom.
Jennings, one of Watson's two human competitors, might have had such a scenario in mind as the match drew to a close.
Underneath his Final Jeopardy answer, Jennings scrawled on his slate for the audience to see, "I for one welcome our new computer overlords."