New IBM Supercomputer Answers Questions
By Matthew Dublin
IBM's new "Watson" supercomputer is being touted as the world's most sophisticated "question answering" machine-a description which, on the face of it, sounds a little redundant, for what else is a supercomputer but a "question answering" machine? However what separates "Watson" from other HPC systems is its ability to process natural human language and spit out a high rate of correct responses. The New York Times has an article describing a recent contest between Watson and a group of former Jeopardy! contestants who, not surprisingly, lost to the machine. It's not the fact that an IBM supercomputer can beat a human being by answering questions in the form of a question, rather the real news is that it's the first time we've seen a supercomputer that actually approaches HAL 9000 territory in terms of human-computer interaction which is solely based on voice commands.
If the natural language processing capabilities are perfected, and the system becomes affordable (right now the price tag is several million dollars), it could provide a new way for non-computing experts to generate complex queries on the fly by simply asking a question. Watson's developers have predicted that this new type of computing could be available in laptops or home computers in about 20 years-probably the amount of time it will take for it to truly work properly in a non-Jeopardy setting.