1:31pm

Thu September 22, 2011
Science/Health

Watson Appears at Kentucky’s Idea Festival

IBM’s Watson computer is using its technology to explore how it can help government agencies and hospitals. Watson appeared in front of a crowd at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts for Louisville’s IdeaFestival. Watson is best known for its success in the game show Jeopardy. IBM researcher David Shepler explained to a crowd Watson’s successes, and its limitations.

“Watson’s going to do a whole lot of things to help free up our time so we can  be more inventive and create. Watson is not going to be creative for us,” he said.

Shepler said Watson works out ideas just like the human brain and uses a series of complex organizing to reach its answers. During Jeopardy, the computer will choose an answer and decide how much it trusts it. If it reaches a certain level of confidence it will decide to answer the question (the picture above shows percentages of trust). But Watson’s success isn’t just that it can research information quickly, he said.

“The fundamental differences are the precision in the system to tell you exactly your answer and to tell you much to trust that answer. In the case of a search engine you have no idea, you have to make that assessment for yourself. If you see an article in the New York Times, maybe you trust that more than Joe’s blog,” said Shepler.

Watson is often confused by language like metaphors or culture references but Watson’s best assets won’t be popular culture or trivia, he said. IBM researchers are currently testing technology that can be used in the medical field to help doctors make decisions (IBM’s Burn Lewis, pictured below, runs the modified version of Jeopardy. Lewis said IMB’s research and software divisions are working together to explore new options for Watson’s technology).

Shepler said the way humans interact with computers is changing, but it’s far from taking over human creativity. After Sheplers’ presentation, students challenged the computer to a game of Jeopardy. Shepler said Jeopardy contestants can answer a question in three seconds on average. Often, Watson is faster.