IBM’s Watson

International Business Machines, or IBM, is known for their ability to push the limits between technology and human intelligence.  An example of this was Deep Blue, the chess playing supercomputer who beat the world’s best chess master.  More recently, IBM has come up with a supercomputer that not only can beat humans in a game of Jeopardy!, but will also be able to benefit society in ways never done before.  IBM created Watson, the supercomputer capable of playing the game show Jeopardy! amongst past champions.  Watson was first started back in 2005 and is based off IBM’s DeepQA technology, which is a type of answering system.  In order for Watson to have a chance of even competing with Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, Watson needed to find the answers from the internet and then very quickly hit the button signifying he knew the answer.  In order to make this happen, Watson used software such as Java C++, Apache Hadoop, Apache UIMA, and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11.  What is fascinating about Watson is that during the game show, he was not connected to the internet, but rather the engineers at IBM loaded and saved internet sources such as encyclopedias and databases into Watson’s 16 Terabytes of RAM, consisting of 200 million pages of content or equivalent to 4 Terabytes.  Watson’s mainframe was built from 90 commercially available IBM Power 750 servers and POWER7 processors.  Because Watson cannot see or hear, the clues were sent to it as text files the same time Brad and Ken were hearing the clues from Alex Trebek.

During the three day competition on Jeopardy!, Watson seemed to be in control from the very start.  He did make a couple noticeable mistakes such as answering “Toronto” to a question asking about “Cities in the United States,” but besides that Watson knew what he was doing.  Watson managed to beat his competitors to the punch most of the time in order to answer the questions and he even wagered when he selected the Daily Double.  Watson went on to win the contest quite easily with a combined three day score of $77,147 while Jennings and Rutter had $24,000 and $21,600 respectively.

Watson is destined for bigger and better things than just appearing on Jeopardy!.  Watson has already begun to work with Columbia University in helping doctors diagnose patients and what treatments are needed for those patients.  Also at Columbia University, Watson will address critical issues in medicine.  After his stay at Columbia, Watson will then be studied at the University of Maryland to discover how supercomputers such as Watson can be best utilized in the medical field.  With the success of Watson, IBM has really created something much more than just a successful game show playing supercomputer.  Supercomputers can now start to be built to help society in ways never thought before, and everyone will definitely benefit from such a success.

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