While Kurzweil and his associates make prognostications on the basis of digital tea leaves, the folks over at IBM’s research labs make the predicted future our reality. On February 14, an IBM super computer named Watson will show up on the TV game show Jeopardy to challenge two human Jeopardy champions, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. IBM’s Watson already won a Jeopardy practice round in mid-January, so the computer’s prospects for Valentine’s Day look good.
Watson is seen as a giant leap forward for artificial intelligence, because the supercomputer has to understand and react to everyday human speech. Most computers that react to human speech do so based on clearly defined keywords such as “call,” “play” or “search.” Not Watson. IBM’s latest supercomputer must hear the Jeopardy answers just as humans do, understand the meaning of each statement, and then decide how best to formulate a response. Watson is powered by 15TB of RAM and about 2880 processor cores that can perform 80 trillion operations per second.