The IBM “Jeopardy Challenge”

Most people don’t think of working at IBM as a very exciting endeavor.  At times, I’d be hard pressed to convince them otherwise.  However, there’s something very special about what a large (country-sized) company with a wealth of talent and resources can do to change the world and the way we think about technology.  When I was an intern at IBM in 2004, I had the opportunity to work with an artifact of one of those game-changing demonstrations of technological prowess.
I was working for the “multimodal technologies group,” specifically on voice-enabled web browsers for mobile devices.  While it really didn’t pan out (the way we were doing it, that is), the idea was that a voice interface to a web browser on your cell phone or PDA could end up making navigation much easier while walking, driving, etc.  We ended up creating a few applications to demonstrate this functionality in ways that would grab people’s attention.
One of the things I worked on was a voice-enabled chess game.  This was not just any chess game, however, because it had some “help” at the server end.  Sitting on a shelf at the Austin site was one of the nodes left over from the Deep Blue machine that beat Garry Kasparov at chess in 1997.  It was only one node of many that actually played the game together, but it had the custom “chess hardware” in it and the software still installed.  I coded up something that would put a web services API on the chess application and allow a web client to play against the computer.  After we got it working, one of the people in the lab figured he could probably beat just a single node, so he gave it a try.  The game was over pretty quick.
IBM recently announced their proposed “Jeopardy Challenge” which has a similar goal: beat a human at something mental by brute force.  However, this one makes Deep Blue look like a walk in the park, if you ask me.  Take a look:
It seems like an impossible task, but we have to get there at some point I suppose.  I’ll be watching closely to see what develops and how “Watson” does!
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