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By Stewart Mitchell

Posted on 15 Dec 2010 at 12:47

IBM will put the wits of one of its development computer systems against two quiz champions in a man versus machine version of the US game show Jeopardy.

The event will see a program dubbed “Watson” take on two Jeopardy multiple champions next February in a publicity stunt that is a throwback to the chess showdowns between grand master Garry Kasparov and IBM’s Deep Blue.

The artificially intelligent Watson is classed by IBM as a “question and answering” system that relies on deep analytics and natural language processing tools to try to understand the questions and then apply them to its knowledge database.

Four years in the making, IBM said Watson would face a stiff challenge playing the game because of the multipile facets and question styles on the show.

“Because of the nature of the game, it will drive the technology in the right direction,” said David Ferrucci, the scientist leading the IBM Research team that has created Watson.

“It has a broad domain in that it asks all sorts of things, and there’s a confidence aspect in that you don’t answer if you don’t know and it has to understand the nuances of the question, the language, the accents.”

The Watson software is powered by an IBM POWER7 server optimised to handle the huge number of tasks that the computer needs to perform quickly to analyse complex language and deliver correct answers.

According to IBM, beyond the competition it hopes to use the technology in areas such as helping with patient diagnosis in healthcare, improving online self-service help desks, and for general user interface queries.