Meet Watson, IBM Supercomputer and Future 'Jeopardy' Champ

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I'm pretty sure IBM's new supercomputer is out to take my job. The machine, codenamed Watson, is under development at IBM's research labs and on its way to becoming a contestant on "Jeopardy."

Yes, you read correctly: IBM is prepping Watson to take on America's brightest minds on the nation's most famous knowledge showdown. They're building superfast, superintelligent technology (it's not called a supercomputer for nothing) that can think like a human, only better. And being that I think like a human, only worse, I'm feeling particularly vulnerable.

Is Watson 'Jeopardy' Ready?

Watson may not look like much -- a bunch of chips, wires, and casings, really -- but don't let appearances deceive you. This thing boasts cutting-edge natural language processing technology that can rival the knowledge base and brain-power of your favorite Einstein-loving smartypants.

"Watson is a compelling example of how the planet ... is becoming smarter," boasts IBM CEO Samuel J. Palmisano.

So, what exactly does that mean? I'm no genius, so I turned to IBM researcher and Watson project lead Dave Ferrucci for some fast answers. He says Watson starts by "studying" -- and we're talking an entire college career's worth of material.

"The system would have 'read' many, many natural language texts -- books, reference materials, all kinds of information -- and tried to analyze and organize that information in such a way that it can see the meaning of the question and try to figure out what are likely answers," Ferrucci explains.

Watson doesn't stop with knowledge, though: Like a person -- particularly one competing on "Jeopardy" -- it has to be able to assess how confident it is with its answer. If it buzzes in with some iffy information, it could suffer some serious point losses.

"Determining the confidence is a really big part of the challenge," Ferrucci says. "Humans can know what they know very rapidly. This is something the Watson computer is working very hard to do."

A computer with confidence? Sheesh...that's a real blow to the ol' self-esteem.

Next: Under Watson's hood

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