Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Finally, a reason to watch game shows

Computer scientists have a reason to cheer tonight for Watson, IBM's artificial intelligence that is attempting to beat two of Jeopardy’s human champions and expand the frontiers of artificial intelligence. Last night's broadcast ended with Watson at $35,734, Brad Rutter at $10,400, and Ken Jennings at $4,800 after a fascinating game (in which Watson strangely thought Toronto was a U.S. city.)

I've been closely following Watson's progress because of the implications "he" has for computer science. I like the idea of "grand challenges," as IBM calls their ambitious projects - not only for the innovation they produce, but also because of their power to engage the public and promote interest in computer science. For those interested in learning more, has many interesting videos on the project. The videos cover the actual tech behind the system (dubbed "DeepQA" by IBM), and its implications for data management and analytics in various industries. The human element is given special attention, too - my favourite segments are the ones profiling the various teams of IBM researchers from different disciplines, and showing how each of them contributed to this ambitious project.

The videos are entertaining, fascinating - sometimes even amusing. In one of the video commentaries, one of the developers said his favorite misparse of a question was when the clue was:

"Category: Bottoms Up!:
It's made with equal amounts of champagne and orange juice."
and Watson said "What is breakfast?"

Ottawa IBM employees and Carleton students (including yours truly) will celebrate tonight with a party and screening of the final game at Oliver’s Pub. For A.I. enthusiasts, it's perhaps a more exciting broadcast than the Superbowl!