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Supercomputers for $1000, Please Alex

This week the popular game show Jeopardy! aired a three part special pitting two human contestants, Jen Jennings and Brad Rutter, against IBM’s latest supercomputer, Watson.

IBM has a history of pushing the limits of computer programming and artificial intelligence. The famous 1996 and 1997 chess tournaments between and Deep Blue and world champion Garry Kasparov demonstrated the advances in computer programming.

While Deep Blue was built specifically to play chess, IBM’s latest foray into deep technology relates to programming specifically designed for artificial intelligence question answering, DeepQA.

So just what or who is Watson? According to IBM, “Watson is an application of advanced natural language processing, information retrieval, knowledge representation and reasoning, and machine learning technologies to the field of open domain question answering.” Watson is made up of 90 servers and hundreds of algorithms and uses massively parallel processing. New technologies allowed researchers at IBM to create a system that bridges the principles of data analytics and supercomputing.

For those who have not had the opportunity to watch Watson in action, I will leave that up to the many videos featuring the Jeopardy! game. Watching the technology in action and knowing that Watson was able to quickly and accurately respond without being connected to the internet is an interesting and amazing feat.

Now that the Jeopardy! challenge is over, how will IBM use the DeepQA technologies? One way will possibly be to revolutionize the health care industry and research capabilities. Many libraries are becoming more involved in e-science. Data acquisition and curation are an important part of e-science, and perhaps with IBM’s search technologies, physicians will be better able to access data and use it to make informed decisions for patient care and research.

The following video is from IBM and features a discussion of how Watson may be used in the health care arena.

Many articles and blog posts have been published about IBM’s move to use Watson technology in health care. Many groups are anticipating seeing this technology employed in the health care area in the next 18-24 months. The Wall Street Journal reports that Columbia University and the University of Maryland School of Medicine will both be working with IBM on upcoming medical projects.

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