Boom! Question Answering Engines Take Off. IBM Sets Sights On Jeopardy, Wolfram Alpha


Boom!  That is the sound skittering across the information industry landscape this week as IBM has suddenly stepped into the ring, proposing that its Watson question answering engine will be able to best humans in a live televised game of Jeopardy within a year.

Already, Singularity Hub and the rest of the information industry have been in a tizzy for weeks, obsessing over the much hyped, much anticipated May launch of the Wolfram Alpha question answering engine.  Now with the entry of IBM into the game, the race to create a question answering engine that matches the intelligence of a human while offering the near infinite memory, speed, and computation of a computer has shifted into high gear.

Only weeks ago, Singularity Hub summed things up as follows:

Whether intentionally or not, Wolfram Alpha has suddenly brought the idea of an accurate, computerized question answering service into the consciousness of the information industry.  It does not matter whether Wolfram Alpha’s technology is the greatest thing since sliced bread or a complete flop.  What matters is that an idea that has been around for a long time has finally come of age.  Now the race is officially on to make it a reality.

Thank you IBM for proving us right!  Even we didn’t expect things to heat up this fast, but we sure won’t complain.  Is it a coincidence that IBM and Jeopardy have made their announcement just weeks before Wolfram Alpha is poised to launch?  Perhaps, but equally likely is the possibility that the IBM/Jeopardy partnership was either created entirely to deflect the momentum of Wolfram Alpha or at least expedited as a response.  Having invested in its Watson project for more than 2 years IBM obviously will not sit back and watch Wolfram Alpha dominate the question answering space uncontested.

With IBM planning to take on Jeopardy and Wolfram Alpha putting the final touches on its May launch, information industry behemoth Google also cannot be far behind.  Techrunch reports that on the day of Wolfram Alpha’s sneak preview at Harvard this past Tuesday Google launched structured data into its search results, a blatant and powerful attempt to offer many of Wolfram Alpha’s capabilities and steal it’s thunder.

We couldn’t find the energy to sit through the Wolfram Alpha sneak preview webcast on Tuesday.  Instead we will wait for the real thing to launch.  For those who want to learn what they missed, CNET has a full review.

Although perhaps even more powerful when connected to the vast information resources available on the internet, in a smart publicity move IBM states that “just like human competitors, Watson will not be connected to the Internet or have any other outside assistance. ”  Instead Watson will rely on its own internal, but still massive, database of information.

In addition to being extremely useful, the development of a Jeopardy capable question answering engine will mark a significant achievement in the field of artificial intelligence.  The predictions of Kurzweil and others of a future where computers match or exceed humans in nearly all capabilities is unfolding right before our eyes.  Computers haven’t taken us over yet, however, so in the meantime how about checking out the promotional video released by IBM and Jeopardy below:

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