Print Save PDF

About 5 minutes

 IBM Watson and Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence.

It has been a beacon of inspiration for science fiction writers for over half a century – from Isaac Asimov’s 1956 classic I, Robot to HAL 9000 from the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The idea has been immortalized in the imaginations of scientists who are seeking to make this fantasy a reality.

For the last few decades, scientists have been trying to crack the code to developing AI. 

But, as we have gradually discovered, there is more to the human brain than meets the eye.

The Chess Game

chess-watsonComputers are calculation machines that thrive on formulas with set outcomes.

Our first step towards AI began when scientists began developing a computer that could beat the greatest human minds in a battle of strategy and wit: chess.

With the ability to analyze hundreds of moves per turn and calculate the best outcome with the least risk, computers ruled this rule-based strategy game.

In 1997, IBM’s computer Deep Blue was programmed with almost every chess theory and strategy known to man. Facing off against the chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov (proclaimed to be the greatest chess player of all time), Deep Blue was armed and ready for battle.

In a 5-game match, Kasparov lost to this machine – one of the first times in history that a machine proved “more intelligent” than a man.

But, as intelligent as Deep Blue was at playing chess, that is as far as its capabilities stretched. Ask it what color the sky is, and it would be like asking a rock for directions.


old-comp-watsonThe ability to analyze alone does not define our humanity. So what does? Is it our emotions, our ability to analyze and problem solve? Is it our ability to create or imagine? The answer is all of the above, but it starts with understanding language. Eliza, designed in the 1990’s, was the first computer to ever mimic human conversation abilities. People would type their questions and Eliza would respond with a message.

Working as an electronic therapist of sorts, Eliza would respond to basic questions in a grammatically correct way by using key words to fill in the blanks, but it would give no actual helpful input. This computer program worked using speech patterns, and no more. It provided an empty, typed conversation.

The Challenge

When giving initial estimations on how long it would take to create AI, we as humans inaccurately estimated the greatest component of all: ourselves. At the time, we simply could not fathom the grandeur of what being a human entails. The complexity of thought is one thing. The ability to analyze information in context is another. But, even the basic development of common sense knowledge – those inane facts that most humans form in the first three years of their lives – became a puzzle that scientists have struggled to replicate.


The sky is blue, for instance. The grass is green. Water is wet. Even basic language and communication skills apply. To create AI, some scientists have attempted to teach a machine what it means to exist and program that common sense knowledge and experience. Psych, for instance, is a program that scientists are creating to program every rule of the world.

Dead things stay dead, for instance. Fire burns. Honeysuckle smells sweet. With over 6 million rules already entered, these scientists are trying to build out that common sense knowledge. This programming is necessary since most machines don’t have observational learning capabilities. Until Watson, that is.

IBM Watson: The First Machine to Analyze Based On Context


What makes IBM Watson so unique from other attempts at AI machine creation is its machine learning capabilities. Watson has gained his success from being able to sense patterns while analyzing things – all from within the context of the human language. Its database of knowledge is vast.

IBM Watson’s debut on Jeopardy was ground-breaking, especially since it was able to understand human language and respond accordingly to questions known for their complexity. But, this was just the beginning.

In a world where data has become one of the most coveted and highly valued commodities, the ability to analyze vast amounts of information with a human-like intuition is game-changing. And IBM Watson is quite literally changing the way industries around the world operate – from healthcare to travel, cooking, sports, education, communication, nutrition, and beyond. Its possibilities are endless. It could even be the next J.A.R.V.I.S.

IBM Watson may not be a full-blown AI, but it’s definitely a step closer than scientists have every gotten.

Want to see how you can put IBM Watson and other data technologies to work for your business? Download your copy of the eBook, Secrets of a Skyrocketing CIO, and discover the 5 Ways Your Data Will Help You Uncover New Business Opportunities.


Written by IBM BP Network