Adam Gartenberg's Blog

Business Analytics and Optimization, IBM and Social Marketing

Stephen Wolfram weighs in on Watson


I'm jealous of my Lotus friends for getting to see Watson in action at the closing general session of Lotusphere this year.  From everything I read online, it sounds like it made for quite an impressive and entertaining end to the show.

And speaking of Watson, last week Stephen Wolfram posted to his blog his take on how Watson compares to WolframAlpha (Jeopardy, IBM, and Wolfram|Alpha).  It makes for a very interesting read.  

As he describes, Watson and WolframAlpha are designed for very different tasks (and I'm not well enough versed in the inner workings of Watson to be able to weigh in on the accuracy of his description of Watson's processing techniques).  In relating the differences, he highlights the importance of Watson's work around natural language processing.  (One of the aspects that differentiates Watson from prior work in this area is its ability to interpret meaning and context.)

But at a more practical level, it’s related to an activity that has been central to IBM’s business throughout its history: handling internal data of corporations and other organizations.
There are typically two general kinds of corporate data: structured (often numerical, and, in the future, increasingly acquired automatically) and unstructured (often textual or image-based). The IBM Jeopardy approach has to do with answering questions from unstructured textual data—with such potential applications as mining medical documents or patents, or doing ediscovery in litigation. It’s only rather recently that even search engine methods have become widely used for these kinds of tasks—and with its Jeopardy project approach IBM joins a spectrum of companies trying to go further using natural-language-processing methods.


He concludes with a nod to IBM's continued focus on R&D and a closing thought for Watson:  "Good luck on Jeopardy! I’ll be rooting for you, Watson."

And on a related note - I saw a couple of tweets from Lotusphere commenting on Watson's voice.  Here's a video posted recently showing Watson's progress over time at pronouncing some of the not-so-common words that come up in games like Jeopardy (and you can meet the team behind Watson's speech here).



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