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IBM’s Watson Heads From ‘Jeopardy!’ To Columbia University Medical Center

Ken Jennings, IBM's Watson Avatar, and Brad Rutter appear on the "Jeopardy!" episode that aired Feb 16, 2011 - AP Photo/Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

Ken Jennings, IBM’s Watson Avatar, and Brad Rutter appear on the “Jeopardy!” episode that aired Feb 16, 2011 – AP Photo/Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) - The computer program that crushed the human competition on the “Jeopardy!” quiz show is going to be lending its power to an area hospital. 


WCBS 880′s Monica Miller on an appreciation for the human mind

Watson, the supercomputer developed by IBM Corp., will be tested for the first time at the Columbia University Medical Center. The computer will also be tested at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. It’s the program’s first real-world tests outside of the trivia game show and IBM’s laboratories.

Watson, as IBM has dubbed the program, represents a breakthrough in the ability of computers to understand human language and scour massive databases to supply the most likely answer to questions. David Ferrucci, the Principal Investigator on IBM’s Watson Project, compares the computer’s technology to the Starship Enterprise.

“Captain Kirk or Captain Piccard just start talking to the computer and the computer just understands what it’s saying, does follow up questions, summarizes results and they have this really fluent dialogue and natural language – that’s actually a really, really hard thing for a computer to do,” Ferrucci told WCBS 880′s Monica Miller.

Watson is not always right; some of its errors in its “Jeopardy!” debut this week were amusingly off-base. In the first game, the Final Jeopardy! category was “U.S. Cities,” but Watson answered “What is Toronto?”

“One of the great things about Jeopardy, that changes how you think about computing, is you have to be right cause if you guess wrong you lose points,” Katherine Frase, Vice President of IBM’s Industry Research, told Miller. “So, to be able to calculate how confident are you, that you have the right answer, took us into a whole new realm of  computer science that we haven’t done before.”

The two-game, three-night “Jeopardy!” event was recorded at IBM’s center in Yorktown Heights, New York.

But it holds promise for doctors and hedge fund managers and other industries that need to sift through large amounts of data to answer questions.

Watson could be a boon for IBM, the world’s biggest computer services company, if it works as promised in the real world. IBM makes a mint on “analytics” software that helps companies mine their data and predict future trends, such as shopping patterns at a retailer, for instance.

“I think, in some sense, as computers get smarter they’re not consuming us, we’re consuming them – we’re consuming their intelligence, we’re making it integrated into our lives, we’re getting computers to help us,” Ferrucci said. “So, I’m not as afraid about computers taking over, I’m more excited about them helping us.”

Watson currently runs on 10 racks of IBM servers, but computing power generally doubles every two years so the amount of hardware needed to run the same program will soon be significantly less. And the program can be tweaked to run slower, or scan less information, to make the program easier to deploy in a business setting.

IBM hasn’t disclosed prices for the commercial sale of Watson, nor details of the financial arrangements with the hospitals.

Watson’s $1 million prize on “Jeopardy!” is going to charity.

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)