Watson draws its information from a personal database, not the internet. It can answer most Jeopardy questions in about three seconds. To do so, Watson uses massive amounts of parallel computing power. Inside the large machine are racks of servers, over 2000 cores, with 15 terabytes of RAM, and about 80 teraflops of processing power. Yet all of this hardware is more or less “off the shelf”. What makes Watson really unique is the way it processes language. IBM developed the DeepQA project (of which Watson is a part) to be able to provide human-like answers to human-asked questions. That means it has to understand the ambiguities and intricacies of human speech – a medium of communication notorious for its acceptable mistakes and imprecision. Using its vast database of literature, scientific reports, and other documents, Watson develops ideas of how often words are associated with other words, and what meanings are extracted from those connections. Add in a few rules about how to best play Jeopardy, and you are most of the way towards building a computer that can defeat humans at their own game.
HAL once said, “Thank you for a very enjoyable game.”