Definition

IBM Watson supercomputer

Part of the Healthcare IT glossary:

Watson is an IBM supercomputer that combines artificial intelligence (AI) and sophisticated analytical software for optimal performance as a “question answering” machine. The supercomputer is named for IBM’s founder, Thomas J. Watson.

The Watson supercomputer processes at a rate of 80 teraflops (trillion floating-point operations per second). To replicate (or surpass) a high-functioning human’s ability to answer questions, Watson accesses 90 servers with a combined data store of over 200 million pages of information, which it processes against six million logic rules. The device and its data are self-contained in a space that could accommodate 10 refrigerators.

Watson's key components include:

Speculations about Watson’s future uses are varied. Because the device can perform text mining and complex analytics on huge volumes of unstructured data, it could –- among other possibilities -- support a search engine with capabilities far superior to any now existing. In an interview during the practice round, an IBM representative evaded the question of whether Watson might be made broadly available through a Web interface. The representative said that the company was currently more interested in vertical applications such as healthcare and decision support.

To showcase its abilities, Watson will challenge two top-ranked players on “Jeopardy!”, the popular trivia show. In a practice round in January of 2011, Watson beat champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. The Watson avatar sat between the two other contestants, as a human competitor would, while its considerable bulk sat on a different floor of the building. Like the other contestants, Watson had no Internet access.

In the practice round, Watson demonstrated a human-like ability for complex wordplay, correctly responding, for example, to “Classic candy bar that’s a female Supreme Court justice” with “What is Baby Ruth Ginsburg?” Rutter noted that although the retrieval of information is “trivial” for Watson and difficult for a human, the human is still better at the complex task of comprehension. Nevertheless, machine learning allows Watson to examine its mistakes against the correct answers to see where it erred and so inform future responses. 

 

See also: Turing test, real-time analytics, health IT, Blue Gene, business analytics

 

Continue reading about IBM’s Watson supercomputer:

 > IBM features videos about Watson’s technologies, its applications and its Jeopardy! performance.

 > The Apache Foundation explains its contributions to Watson’s performance.

 > Luke Meredith reports on the debut of Blue Gene Watson.

> Informationmanagement.com: IBM's Watson challenge no gimmick

IBM’s Jeopardy!-playing supercomputer runs on SUSE Linux.

This was last updated in February 2011
Posted by: Margaret Rouse

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