This week is a big one in search technology. Well, sort of - if you liked seeing IBM's 'Deep Blue' beat Garry Kasparov back in 1996.
For several years, a team at IBM has been working on a computer system - dubbed 'Watson' - that will be one of the featured players this week on the game show Jeopardy.
The IBM team has been working on the project for years. According to NOVA, Watson has passed the screening interview required of all players; and this week - Monday the 14th through Wednesday the 16th - Watson will take on the two best human players in Jeopardy history, Ken Jennings and Brat Rutter, in a historic match. The Nova special, 'The Smartest Machine on Earth', tells the story in a captivating way without too much waving of the hands. It takes us through the low points and the ultimate high point, when, in a test round a few months ago, Watson soundly defeated two human players.
Watson is not connected to the Internet, so it's on its own at air time. The system is not voice-driven, so for input it receives the question in the form of a text stream when the director clicks the magic button to flip the question. Watson can buzz in like the human players, and it speaks the 'question' in a synthesized human voice. Because it cannot listen to the other players' wrong answers, the IBM support engineers 'notify' Watson when there was a wrong answer so it can use that information in its determination.
Watching the practice round linked above is interesting: they've overlaid Watson's answers even when it did not buzz in first; and it is uncanny how often Watson was right - just too late to buzz in.
This doesn't apply to search engines just yet; Watson is programmed for the nuances of the game show and isn't billed as an AI device. Still, it's interesting to see the work the iBM team put into getting Watson ready; and we'll se how it does this week.
Man versus machine: sounds like something right out of the Firesign Theater's 'I think we're all Bozos on this bus' when 'Ah Clem' takes on the President and wins. Except that this time it might be a chance for revenge if Watson can pull it off: check it out this week, Monday through Wednesday!