IBM sends Watson to NY college to boost its skills (Update)

Jan 30, 2013 by Michael Hill
Watson demoed by IBM employees. Credit: Wikipedia

Watson, the supercomputer famous for beating the world's best human "Jeopardy!" champions, is going to college.

IBM is announcing Wednesday that it will provide a Watson system to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in New York state, the first time the computer is being sent to a university. Just like the flesh-and-blood students who will work on it, Watson is leaving home to sharpen its skills. Course work will include English and math.

"It's a big step for us," said Michael Henesey, IBM's vice president of business development. "We consider it absolutely strategic technology for IBM in the future. And we want to evolve it, of course, thoughtfully, but also in collaboration with the best and brightest in academia."

Watson is a cognitive system that can process massive amounts of data, including natural language. To beat "Jeopardy!" champions in 2011, it was fed the contents of encyclopedias, dictionaries, books, news dispatches and movie scripts. For its medical work, it takes in medical textbooks and journals. After it takes in data, Watson can provide information like a "Jeopardy!" answer, a medical diagnosis or an estimate of financial risk.

IBM, which provided a grant to RPI to operate Watson for three years, sees it as a way to help it boost the computer's cognitive capabilities.

Artificial intelligence researchers at RPI want to do things like improve Watson's mathematical ability and help it quickly figure out the meaning of new or made-up words. They want to improve its ability to handle the torrent of images, videos and emails on the Web, the sort of unstructured information that is overwhelmingly fueling the data boom.

For Selmer Bringsjord, who heads RPI's department of cognitive science, getting a crack at Watson is like a car aficionado being tossed the keys to a souped-up Lamborghini. Bringsjord said he and his graduate students could potentially focus on providing Watson with a deeper understanding of the structure of sentences and how dialogues unfold.

"If I can make a tiny, tiny contribution in that direction, given how historic the system is, I'd be very happy and I think my graduate students would be as well," Bringsjord said.

The original Watson remains at IBM's Research Headquarters in Westchester County, about 100 miles south of the school. RPI has hardware fully dedicated to running the system's software at its supercomputing center in the Rensselaer Tech Park near the school. RPI's version of Watson has 15 terabytes of memory, enough to store a massive library. It will allow 20 users to access the system at once.

IBM has worked collaboratively with other outside institutions on Watson, such as Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, New York-based Citigroup Inc. and the Cleveland Clinic. But this is the first time hardware fully dedicated to running the Watson software is being installed at a college.

Officials with IBM and RPI say Watson's college tenure also will prepare RPI students for jobs in cognitive science and "big data," a field where demand is quickly outpacing supply. John Kolb, RPI's chief information officer, said he would like the next generation of the school's technology graduates "to help IBM take Watson to the next level."

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User comments : 6

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gwrede
1 / 5 (2) Jan 30, 2013
Scary! So it's not going to be Cyberdyne, after all.

But seriously, if a computer goes to college today, what will we see in 20 years? Computers doing their Ph.Ds? Majoring in Physics, Math, Law, and Political Science? Or Psychology and Marketing? And 10 years later? We'll probably have no clue about what they are talking with each other.

But rather than Skynet taking over the world, I can see the person who hacks it, as the world leader. I guess I can only hope that he isn't racist or something. :-P

I used to be so eager to see the Singularity and its ramifications, but lately I've got a little cautious.

Oh, well, at least there is no risk for the times ahead becoming less Interesting. :-P
Eikka
not rated yet Jan 30, 2013
Do they give Watson the answer to the math problems, and it has to figure out what the problem was?
Rdavid
not rated yet Jan 30, 2013
Watson on scholarship or full tuition? RPI waive the SAT, essay and letters of reference?
El_Nose
not rated yet Jan 30, 2013
@gwrede

We have been trying to teach computer AI's mathematics for over 40 years. While they have come up with many useful and straight forward mathematical proofs, they have not shown ability developing complex proofs, but they can check complex proofs.

CS believes the issue is in how the mathematics is categorized and the language of the math itself is very very abstract. Once you get to subjects like topology and you add in a proof that literally states almost every 3d object is either a sphere or a torus, then the way it looks at everything else in its database get effected.

And it's true almost every 3d shape is either a sphere or a n-torus with continuous deformations
El_Nose
not rated yet Jan 30, 2013
@eikka

No they start simple, Have you ever gone to Barnes and noble and looked at a copy of Pythagorus' "The Elements"

It is a collection of geometry proofs developed in ancient Greece. It is very straight forward and if you read slowly from beginning to end most High schoolers COULD with effort understand the entire book of proofs. From there you ask the computer to create simplier proofs than the one in memory.

These are the more straight forward answers we humans sometimes over look.. or they are mathematically very suttle and man just never thought of it that way. In fact every Geometry book now has a couple of computer proofs that were developed in the 60's that are a lot easier to understand than previous human ones.

Or you ask the computer to create new proofs that are extensions of what it 'knows' these are logical extrapolations. But they must be checked by a Ph.d in mathematics most times to figure out if they are true. Some seem great on the surface but are wrong.
El_Nose
not rated yet Jan 30, 2013
The goal here is to test if you give Watson enough info on human language, and on mathematical language, could you ask it for a proof of fermat's last theorem.

Could you ask this computer very hard questions and it arrive at an answer humans have over looked because it's concept of memory is very different than ours.

Could you ask it to solve the millinium problems and get a meaningful answer... or if not an answer could you look at the way it attempts to solve the problem and lead humans down a different road of thought that gets us closer to the solution.

Couple Watson with a true Quantum computer for solving internal optimizations and you have an intelligence machine that might solve very very hard issues. Like energy or water shortages and arrive at answers in minutes without years of study.

Then imagine being able to simply copy Watson's memory and create hundreds of these answer engines.. for solving disease issue and creating drugs... ... ... ... think about it ... ... ...

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