Adam Gartenberg's Blog

Business Analytics and Optimization, IBM and Social Marketing

Do Chicks Dig Watson?

I don't know the answer to that question, but I do know that the Watson supercomputer made a near-perfect run through the "Chicks Dig Me" category (much to the audience's amusement) during a teaser exhibition match against Jeopardy Champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter yesterday.  The computer came out ahead of its human competitors in the 15-question practice, finishing with $4,400 to Jennings' $3,400 and Rutter's $1,200.  During the match Watson buzzed in first for half of the questions asked, answering all of them correctly.   (Scroll down for video footage of the match captured by Engadget.)

Of course, things may be different come Feb 14-16, when the actual competition will air.

There's been no shortage of coverage of yesterday's practice session, and I'm glad to see that the articles are paying attention not only to the on-screen battle, but to the longer-term implications of this technology (all of which runs on standard IBM Power 7 series hardware, running on Linux O/S and a combination of off-the-shelf and custom IBM data management and analytics software).  Unlike Deep Blue, the IBM supercomputer that defeated chess champion Garry Kasparov, there are immediate, real-world uses to which that Watson's analytic capabilities can be applied.

The USA Today article highlights some of these benefits, as relayed by IBM SVP John E Kelly III:

"In the field of artificial intelligence, people spend lifetimes trying to advance that science inches," said John E. Kelly III, IBM senior vice president and director of IBM research. "What we have done is advance artificial intelligence by miles."
Of course a lot more is at stake than just a game show victory, regardless of how sweet that would be for either man or machine.
Researchers have their sights set on applying the technology in fields from health care to help desks. The possibilities are endless, they say, though health care is the most immediate priority.
It's easy to see how such a breakthrough could be put to good use there, helping doctors to accurately diagnose patients' conditions by sifting through mountains of data in mere seconds.

For more on how this technology is helping healthcare today, see today's guest post on the Smarter Planet blog:  IBM Watson analytics technology assists healthcare providers today

PBS’ NOVA will feature an in-depth look at Watson on February 9.  Until then, you can check out the articles below or head on over to Watson's homepage on

Video of the practice round (via Engadget)

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