IBM prepares for machine vs man Jeopardy! showdown

Thu Jan 13, 2011 7:27pm EST
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By Ritsuko Ando

YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, New York (Reuters) - Computer history for $400?

An IBM computer won the practice round on popular quiz show Jeopardy! against two top contestants, showing artificial intelligence has come a long way in simulating how humans think.

"We have created a computer system which has the ability to understand natural human language, which is a very difficult thing for a computer to do," said John Kelly, the director of IBM Research.

"In the field of artificial intelligence, people spend their lifetimes trying to advance that science inches. What Watson does and has demonstrated is the ability to advance the field of artificial intelligence by miles."

The machine, named Watson after legendary International Business Machines president Thomas Watson, is a showcase of the company's computing expertise and research in advanced science.

It also shows IBM -- which turns 100 years old this year -- wants to stay at the forefront of technology, even as companies such as Google Inc and Apple Inc have become the industry's popular leaders.

IBM says the ability to understand language makes Watson far more evolved than Deep Blue, the company's supercomputer which won against world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997.

The biggest challenge for IBM scientists was teaching Watson to differentiate between literal and metaphorical expressions and understanding puns and slang.   Continued...