Enterprise IT Watch Blog

Feb 21 2011   2:09PM GMT

An autopsy of IBM brainchild, Watson

Melanie Yarbrough Profile: MelanieYarbrough

Sure, everyone loves a good robot story, but what are we really interested in when it comes to Watson, The Jeopardy Wild Card? David Ferrucci and his team’s brainchild has some impressive specs, in addition to its record-breaking performance:

  • 10 racks of 90 Power750 servers
  • 2,880 cores in Watson’s system
  • 15 terabytes of RAM
  • Equivalent of about 6,000 high-end home PCs

In addition to the enviable hardware setup, Watson’s software included the ability to understand language, making it possible for it to compete in the game show. Ferrucci’s team of two dozen wrote a mixture of algorithms in an attempt to emulate the human brain. To aid the supercomputer in recognizing letters of the alphabet, IBM input millions of images to allow Watson to determine recurring qualities in order to recognize the form of a letter it hadn’t yet seen.

Because Watson couldn’t be connected to the Internet during the game, Ferrucci’s team input information from The World Book Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.org, the Internet Movies Database, a large portion of the New York Times archives, and the Bible. The software is also capable of synthesizing data, or machine learning: With each question Watson gets correct, it is able to gather the commonalities amongst correct responses and improve its game.

No reason to panic, though. IBM’s Ferrucci assures the public that Watson is not the first step toward a realization of iRobot. If it is, however, we still have Asimov’s three laws to protect us:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Melanie Yarbrough is the assistant community editor at ITKnowledgeExchange.com. Follow her on Twitter or send her an email at Melanie@ITKnowledgeExchange.com.

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