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IBM is building HAL

17 Jun 2010

IBM has spent the last three years building a fantastic question-answering machine called Watson. Much like Deep Blue beat the grandmasters of chess, Watson will attempt at beating the best players of Jeopardy!, a much harder task as it involves complex language parsing and spans enormous knowledge areas. New York Times has a fascinating article on how they approached the challenge and just how far they’ve come:

Ferrucci showed me how Watson handled this sample “Jeopardy!” clue: “He was presidentially pardoned on Sept. 8, 1974.” In the first pass, the algorithms came up with “Nixon.” To evaluate whether “Nixon” was the best response, Watson performed a clever trick: it inserted the answer into the original phrase — “Nixon was presidentially pardoned on Sept. 8, 1974” — and then ran it as a new search, to see if it also produced results that supported “Nixon” as the right answer. (It did. The new search returned the result “Ford pardoned Nixon on Sept. 8, 1974,” a phrasing so similar to the original clue that it helped make “Nixon” the top-ranked solution.)