I’ll echo the words of Ken Jennings, “I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords”. This final game of Jeopardy was much closer than the previous; at the end of the first round, Ken was $800 behind Watson. But during Double Jeopardy, Watson lucked out by claiming both Daily Doubles. Had Ken won one of the Daily Doubles, tonight’s game would’ve been a lot closer. In the end, Watson answered the Final Jeopardy question correctly and wagered enough to lock in the win. The final two-day scores were as follows: Watson with $77,147; Ken with $24,000; and Brad with $21,600 — a thrilling conclusion to this three day Man vs. Computer competition.

In a similar competition in 1996, IBM created a super computer designed solely for chess and pit it against champion Garry Kasparov. 15 years later, variants of Deep blue can be run on a desktop computer. But we won’t have to wait 15 years to access a question/answer system — you can find one right now in Wolfram Alpha. Both systems perform some form of natural language processing — that is, turning human speech into computer speech — to derive an answer, but compared to Watson, Wolfram Alpha’s underlying technology is completely different. As Stephen Wolfram explains:

And in a sense Wolfram|Alpha fully understands every answer it gives. It’s not somehow serving up pieces of statistical matches to documents it was fed. It’s actually computing its answers, based on knowledge that it has. And most of the answers it computes are completely new: they’ve never been computed or written down before.

In IBM’s approach, the main part of the work goes into tuning the statistical matching procedures that are used—together in the case of Jeopardy with adding a collection of special rules to handle particular situations that come up.

Point being, there’s an endless amount of possibilities in this field. I revel in the fact that these two great companies can approach a nebulous problem in such creative and innovative ways. For IBM, they created a QA super computer with 2,880 cores and 15 terabytes of RAM, pit it against two of our best trivia champions, and had the pleasure of seeing their creation come out on top. Huge congratulations to the engineers and scientists who created Watson.

Right now, you can download an app for Wolfram Alpha, but since it’s designed to answer particular types of questions, it can feel a little limited as a QA system. After spectating this amazing challenge, all I know is this: I can’t wait for a Watson app.

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