Watson represents a first step into cognitive systems, a new era of computing. It uses programmatic computing plus the combination of three additional capabilities that make Watson truly unique: natural language processing, hypothesis generation and evaluation, and dynamic learning.
While none of these capabilities is unique to Watson by itself, the combination delivers the power to move beyond programmatic computing and unlock the world of global, unstructured data.
With Watson technology, we can move from a keyword-based search that provides a list of locations to an intuitive, conversational means of discovering a set of confidence-ranked responses.
In February 2011, Watson defeated Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings in the Jeopardy! Challenge. The quiz show, known for its complex, tricky questions and very smart champions, was the perfect choice, made by the IBM Research team, for this extraordinary challenge. To play, much less win, Watson had to answer questions posed in every nuance of natural language, including puns, synonyms and homonyms, slang and jargon.
Also of note, Watson was not connected to the internet for the match. It only knew what it had amassed through years of interaction and learning from a large set of unstructured knowledge. Using machine learning, statistical analysis and natural language processing to find and understand the clues in the questions, Watson compared possible answers, by ranking its confidence in their accuracy, and responded – all in about three seconds.