A Supercomputer You Can Afford: What Is Watson?

IBM making a smarter version of our robot overlord available online
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 14, 2013 7:00 AM CST
A Supercomputer You Can Afford: What Is Watson?
"Jeopardy!" champions Ken Jennings, left, and Brad Rutter, right, flank a prop representing Watson during a practice round of the "Jeopardy!" quiz show in Yorktown Heights, NY, Jan. 13, 2011.   (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Bar trivia contests will never be the same. IBM will today announce a plan to make a more powerful version of its famous Watson supercomputer available online at a sliver of what access to the system has cost, the New York Times reports. Of course, the goal isn't really to help you hustle the guys at Jim's Pub, or give Ken Jennings a nervous twitch. Jeopardy is just a hobby for Watson, a powerful learning system with applications ranging from medicine to computational linguistics. One sample usage case, from the Times: Watson can compare one patient's data to thousands of textbooks, clinical trials, and journal articles and deliver to his doctor suggested tests, patient questions, and treatments.

The announcement comes the same week Amazon held a conference touting its own cloud-based supercomputing offering, Amazon Web Service—and in an impressive bit of trolling, IBM hired buses to circle the conference bearing Watson ads. But the events serve to highlight the growing field's potential. One conference participant boasted that it had used AWS to complete in 18 hours a project that would have taken 264 years using one server. "This is the start of a shift in the way people interact with computers," an IBM VP says. (More Watson stories.)

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