Unless you’ve been living in cave – although even caves are wired these days (just ask Batman) – you’ve probably heard about Watson, IBM’s latest Research Grand Challenge, designed to further the science of natural language processing through advances in question and answer (QA) technology.
In February 2011, Watson competed against two human Jeopardy! champions and beat them. Quite an achievement for something IBM drearily describes as a “workload optimized system based on IBM DeepQA architecture running on a cluster of IBM® POWER7® processor-based servers that hold roughly the equivalent of one million books.” In other words, it’s a big fancy computer – but what a computer it is.
Make no mistake about it. IBM didn’t develop Watson to play games. The advances in Watson’s QA technology are poised to help support professionals in a variety of critical and timely decision-making areas like health care, business intelligence, enterprise knowledge management and customer support.
In fact, Watson’s ability to understand the meaning and context of human language, then rapidly process the information to find precise answers to complex questions, holds enormous potential to transform how computers can help people accomplish tasks in business and industry.
As IBM’s Craig Rhinehart describes it: “[Watson’s] DeepQA technology provides humans with a powerful tool for their information gathering and decision support.”
Take customer relationship management, for instance. Imagine a tool built on DeepQA that has a deep understanding of natural language to the point where it’s able to process users’ questions and quickly deliver and justify precise, succinct, high-confidence answers. That’s the sort of potential descendants of Watson will offer organizations.
Stanley S. Litow, president of the IBM International Foundation, sees other exciting ways DeepQA may help better understand “customers,” in areas like non-profit and education. Here’s how he explains some of that potential affecting students:
“We’re now developing new standards in science, math, history, and English. But if you’re still stuck with the same multiple-choice testing, even if you have higher standards, it won’t raise people up, it will dumb things down so people base their teaching and learning on those multiple-choice tests. The technology behind Watson blows that up. It says you could have long-answer questions, you could have the ability to grade lengthy paragraphs of information. If the testing system incorporates that, it will allow teachers to test to higher standards and children to learn at higher levels. And it will save lots of money in what is currently a very ineffective and inefficient testing and assessment system.”
In the next three posts, I’ll look at the promise Watson holds in optimizing real time decisions, in collaborative decision-making and in enabling enterprise visibility.