April 27, 2009

IBM Computer to Play Humans on Jeopardy!

IBM has announced that it is in the final stages of completing a computer program to compete against humans on the television quiz show Jeopardy!, according to The New York Times.

While IBM had previously created a computer -- Deep Blue – which beat then world chess champion Garry Kasparov in a 1997 match, creating an artificial intelligence program to take on humans in the quiz show is much more difficult.

Chess is a game of limits, with pieces that have clearly defined powers. Jeopardy!, however, requires a program which can weigh an almost infinite range of relationships and to make subtle comparisons and interpretations. The software must interact with humans on their own terms. It must be able to deal with analogies, puns, double entendres and relationships like size and location, all at lightning speed.

The creators of the system — which the company refers to as Watson, after the IBM founder, Thomas J. Watson Sr. — said they were not yet confident their system would be able to compete successfully on the show, on which human champions typically provide correct responses 85% of the time.

Despite more than four decades of experimentation in artificial intelligence, scientists have made only modest progress until now toward building machines that can understand language and interact with humans. The development of Watson, capable to compete with humans, could be a step forward for artificial intelligence.

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