Watson and IBM’s Jeopardy Algorithm: Is This Supercomputer Intelligent?

Watson, one of IBM‘s premiere supercomputers, has officially won the Jeopardy! tournament on television starting from Monday through Wednesday.  Watson won $1 million for its two respective charities, World Vision and World Community Grid, over two of Jeopardy’s brightest champions, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

Internally, Watson is running on 90 IBM Power 750 servers that equates to 2,880 Power7 cores that run on 3.55 GHz microchips.  Each of these servers have 16 Terabytes of memory, and the 3.55 GHz chips have an amazing 500 GB/second on-chip bandwidth.  The software that Watson runs on is IBM’s DeepQA software on SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11, and the 200 pages of algorithms contained within is essentially the thinking processor of information.  Lastly, Watson was given a synthesized voice based on IBM’s 2004 text to speech program to answer questions.

Watson was designed to answer questions based on natural written language, and it generally demonstrated the ability to answer quite well.  Although it did have a few trips every now and then, it did demonstrate it had intelligence to understand human written language mostly.  This understanding does mean that the Watson does possess artificial intelligence at a moderate level.  I would expect it to understand books such as Catcher in the Rye and Fight Club, but discussing philosophy with Watson such as Socrates or Nietzsche is something I would not do, even based on its complicated algorithms.

Understanding the free-flowing nature of human speech is another matter altogether.  In most spoken language, the language is sometimes contextual and often not quite as cryptic as some of the questions in the quiz show Jeopardy!.  Currently, most of these programs that understand verbal language are very limited.  These programs can only respond within the confines of its specific algorithms, nothing more and nothing less.  True, the outward appearance of these programs have humanoid-looking shells, but artificial intelligence is only skin deep.

Does Watson possess artificial intelligence?  I wouldn’t doubt it, but understanding natural written language is one thing.  Understanding natural verbal language is another.