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Watson's triumph

Mar 27, 2012

IBM’s Watson has beat the best human Jeopardy competitors. It is a quite remarkable feat because in the game show jeopardy the competitors are presented with clues in the form of answers to which they have to find the correct questions.

Thus playing and winning the quiz show Jeopardy requires associative thinking, even intuition. In short, abilities attributed to humans until now. So, what did it take to build such a machine?

A team of IBM engineers developed Watson over four years. They installed four terabytes of data — more than 10 million documents, such as encyclopedias, Wikipedia, dictionaries and the Bible. Furthermore, the engineers fed Watson with 10'000 old Jeopardy answers. This enabled Watson to "see" patterns from the clues, that is recognise in new answers.

Note that the engineers didn't just feed Watson anything you can find on the Internet. The team worked out that the best data suited to playing Jeopardy were the above mentioned texts, honouring the principle "garbage in, garbage out".