Originally Published Through Yahoo Voices

Now on Jeopardy, IBM Vs Human

IBM – formed in 1911, and incorporated with it’s current name in 1924, has been developing mechanical and electronic computing devices for it’s entire history. IBM has been behind some of the most advanced developments in computing on the planet, from the very first Hard Drive in 1956, through the development of DRAM memory in 1966, to the Floppy Disk in 1971 and many more. IBM is considered by many to be the bleeding edge as well as the leading edge of mainstream and specialized computing.Now they have taken on a remarkable challenge. Can they build a supercomputer that can outplay a world champion Jeopardy player?

Jeopardy is a TV quiz show in which the answer is displayed on the game board along with a cash prize and the topic. The answer that must be given has to be worded as a question. IBM has been working on the Jeopardy problem since 2006 when the development team for a research program called DeepQA was challenged to design a computer system that could compete in real-time with the show Jeopardy.

The computer they have since built, tweaked, tuned and perfected has been named Watson, after IBM Founder Thomas J Watson. The system contains 10 racks full of Power750 servers (420 servers with 2,880 Power7 processors) running with 15 terabytes of memory and allowing for greater than 80 Teraflops of operation. To break down this highly technical jargon, a Terabyte is equal to 1,000 gigabytes, so 15 Terabytes of memory would be 15,000 gigabytes. The Flops or Teraflops is a little more complex. A flops (Floating Point Operation per Second) is any operation that allows for the processing of 2 numbers into one answer. This is a generalization of the actual explanation, but will suffice for us non-technical types.

Most computer processors nowadays operate with between 10 – 30 Gflops. A high end home server might peak at 150-200 Gflops – which means that it would take about f5,000 standard home PC’s to come up to the raw processing power of the Watson system. And that won’t really cut it because the Watson system is not built using the general purpose Intel or AMD processors. The processors running Watson are specially built Power7 processors – similar to the vastly popular PowerPC chain that tends to run many hundreds of computing machines around the world under many brands.

Watson stores entire volumes of encyclopedias, dictionaries, thesauruses, reference volumes, and thousands of other works all indexed and cross-referenced so heavily that if you looked under it’s hood – it would look like a veritable rats nest of electronic circuits all cross-linking to one another. According to the DeepQA team, it also learns from the categories and questions so that it can begin to weight the answers in a more human thinking manner to better come to a conclusion that allows it to hit it’s buzzer in under 3 seconds(Yes, it has to physically hit a buzzer) and give a spoken response that answers the Quiz Show’s question.

It took more than 4 years to develop this human-like thinking machine. On February 14th, it will be televised live against reigning Jeopardy champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, in a $1 million dollar 3 day series of games that will prove that machine is coming close to, if not exceeding man’s ability to put 1 + 1 together and come up with window.


IBM Watson Jeopardy Challenge
Engadget IBM Watson plays Jeopardy Live Chat
IBM History 1945-1998
Toms Hardware PC FLOPS chart
1 + 1 = window video