Next year Watson will match wits with flesh-and-blood contestants, among them perhaps 74-time champ Ken Jennings, without human help or an Internet connection. Victory will take mental agility greater than that of IBM chess champ Deep Blue, which could form strategy but not on-the-fly analysis. Watson evolved out of IBM’s DeepQA research on natural-language processing, a means of digitally parsing the information in human communication. “Jeopardy is a great way to hone this technology,” says David Ferrucci, the project leader on DeepQA.
Ferrucci envisions using Watson as a diagnostic tool for tech support and health care, or anything else that involves complex questions, such as science labs, where problems are often Jeopardy-like. “ ‘This chemical can react with potassium bicarbonate and...’ ” Ferrucci trails off, awaiting the day when Watson chimes in with the answer.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.