Watson Supercomputer Goes to College
IBM’s Watson supercomputer, the mechanical marvel famous for its 2011 win on Jeopardy against some of the gameshow’s most noted champions, a showdown that would’ve made John Henry think he got off easy, is about to undertake an even more grueling task than simply answering trivia questions: enrolling in college.
The Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York will soon be receiving one of IBM’s supercomputers for a period of three years, the first time that such a computer system has been allocated to any university, where it will be accessible to both faculty and students alike. While there, Watson will not only be studied as part of artificial intelligence (AI) research, but it will also be attending courses in both English and math like any other incoming freshman in order to increase its abilities in speech recognition and learning.
IBM and RPI hope to expand Watson’s novel ability to decipher and comprehend natural language on two fronts. First, by improving its ability to not only solve arithmetical equations, but prove why a solution is correct, and then draw mathematical conclusions in abstract terms. Second, the researchers hope to further advance Watson’s speech recognition skills by expanding its ability to intake unstructured information, such as extracting meaning and understanding from images and videos.
“Watson uses a lot of structured data, neatly defined and tabled,” said Michael Rowinski, a spokesman for IBM. “But a lot of data being created today is unstructured and a lot of it is coming from videos and photos. In the health care world, think of all the data within health care images. The real future is being able to extract information from things like photographs and videos.
“Think about tweets and social media posts. Data coming from sensors — all that real-time data, they really want to try to help expand the types of data that a cognitive system like Watson would be able to parse and could put into its question-and-answer processing.”
While the task of cultivating Watson’s artificial intelligence to be on par with that of human intelligence is an substantial, the creators of the 15 terabyte supercomputer believe that it possesses great faculties for learning and growth. As its win on Jeopardy has already been called one of the biggest watershed moments in modern computer engineering, IBM believe that upgrading Watson’s cognitive abilities are vital to both IBM’s business model and advancing computer technology in general.
“It’s a big step for us,” said Michael Henesey, IBM’s vice president of business development. “We consider it absolutely strategic technology for IBM in the future. And we want to evolve it, of course, thoughtfully, but also in collaboration with the best and brightest in academia.”