Viterbi helps IBM create a new computing robot

first_imgJeopardy! pitted the man versus the machine Monday night, as Watson, a computing system that uses Question Answering technology, was quicker than its human opponents in 24 out of 30 “Double Jeopardy” questions.Mr. Roboto · Steve Canepa, IBM’s general manager, hosted a watch party Tuesday to view the launch of Watson on Jeopardy!. Students were impressed by the system’s language skills. – Robin Laird | Daily Trojan Members of the Viterbi School of Engineering’s Information Sciences Institute are among a group of scientists from eight universities who are working to advance Watson, which was designed by IBM to understand human language and language complexities and to provide answers to factual questions.Watson, named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, sorts through its extensive database and tries to provide precise answers quickly. Watson is even able to understand different attributes of human language such as rhyming, alliteration, slang, riddles and puns.Steve Canepa, IBM’s general manager, hosted a watch party at University Gateway on Tuesday for students to watch Watson’s Jeopardy! debut.“It takes Watson an average of three seconds to answer a question,” said Jennifer Chu-Carroll, a research staff member and manager at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center. “And it looks through a database of over 1 million books.”Chu-Carroll has worked on many parts of the Watson system, focusing primarily on developing the system’s ability to quickly narrow down the information in its repertoire to what is relevant to the question being asked. Watson finds about 100 sentences that it thinks could contain the answer and ranks the possibilities in order of confidence.“If Watson is 90 percent sure, it’ll buzz its answer in. If it’s 40 percent sure, it probably won’t,” Chu-Carroll said.Students who attended the watch party were intrigued by Watson’s grasp of the English language.“When you consider all the nuances of the human language, it’s impressive that Watson understands so much of it,” said Peter Perez, a graduate student studying engineering management.Members of Viterbi’s ISI first became involved with IBM in 2001, but only as part of a government-funded research program.Inspired by the QA technology that many universities were developing in their labs, IBM scientists designed Watson over the course of about seven years and then invited other scientists from universities such as USC, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Texas to collaborate on the project. USC has had QA technology for about 10 years, but it was separate from the Watson project.The ISI team specifically contributed to Watson’s parsing ability, the process of analyzing a text, and its inference skills, the ability to reason and draw conclusions.IBM hopes Watson will revolutionize many industries and even assist in research.“There is so much information out there. It is beyond anyone’s ability to go through all of it,” Chu-Carroll said. “So one thing we have tried to do is bridge the gap between the human user and the vast amount of information available.”Eduard Hovy, director of the ISI Human Language Technology group and research associate professor of computer science at USC, said Watson could not only be used to greatly improve the confidence of existing search engines, but could also be used for troubleshooting, business intelligence and medical assistance.“Medical information is growing so quickly, no doctor can stay up-to-date,” Hovy said.Advanced QA technology could be used to sort through medical information and give diagnoses based on patient symptoms. The doctor would then evaluate the information provided and make the ultimate judgment call.Watson’s ability to answer questions as well as a human is currently being tested in the first human versus computer competition on Jeopardy! which will air for the last time today.“We felt as though our system performs well enough, that it would put up a respectable fight whether it wins or loses,” Chu-Carroll said.Watson is a big step forward in language technology. It’s a precursor for the way computers will be designed and how people will be able to communicate with them in the future, according to Chu-Carroll.“As researchers, we’ve known that [technology like Watson] has been possible for a long time, but it’s great to see it finally being realized,” Hovy said.Students are excited about the possibilities for future technology after watching Watson on Jeopardy!.“I think it’s great to see this advancement in technology,” said Sinead Hinson, a junior majoring in public relations. “Who knows what will happen with the next generation.”last_img

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