[ExI] Watson on NOVA

Kelly Anderson kellycoinguy at gmail.com
Sun Feb 13 08:58:18 UTC 2011

> The good stuff is between about 15 minutes and 28 minutes.  We will have
> practical companion computers very soon.  All doubts I once suffered have
> vanished with this NOVA episode.

While I am clearly jazzed about Watson, and I do know for sure now
that Watson uses statistical learning algorithms, I am not quite as
convinced that there is a general solution here. At least not quite
yet. The types of answers generated seemed to have been heavily
"tweaked" for Jeopardy. That's not to say that Watson isn't
interesting, and an important milestone in AI. I think it is both.
Just that it isn't quite as far down the road of machine understanding
as I had hoped. Some of the video seemed to indicate that it used some
kind of statistical proximity based text search engine, rather than
parsing and understanding English sentences quite so much as I thought
maybe it did. Of course, since NOVA was presenting things on a general
audience basis, it may have downplayed any NLP aspect.

This will be useful technology (assuming it escapes research) I can
see it answering really useful questions. I hope they build it into a
search engine. But it does, for the present, seem to be very tweaked
for Jeopardy... which is, I suppose, what I should have expected.

Has anybody seen any technical papers by the Watson team? That would
be interesting in evaluating just how they did it.

Since Watson is essentially a bunch of PCs, I can see this being
deployed into the cloud pretty easily. And if Watson can look on the
Internet, then perhaps it can come up with better answers (albeit
perhaps more slowly) than in the isolated Jeopardy case. It seemed
that they stuck with Wikipedia, online encyclopedias, the internet
movie database and other specific information sites, rather than
crawling the entire web. Perhaps they did this to ensure greater
accuracy??? Or maybe it was a storage space issue. In any case, if
they make a bigger machine in the cloud that accesses the internet and
has more storage, I'm sure they could come up with some very
interesting answers to general questions, assuming the answers are out
there somewhere.


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