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Fast Talk

David Ferrucci on Watson, the Jeopardy Supercomputer

David Ferrucci
Principal Investigator - Watson Project, IBM
Yorktown Heights, New York

The principal investigator for IBM's DeepQA/Watson project, Ferrucci, 49, led the creation of the Jeopardy-playing robot, Watson. The robot is built on data-analysis technology that could have applications in myriad sectors.

"What's really going on under the hood is that Watson is taking input, generating hypotheses, and trying to prove them based on what it thinks it has understood about the clue, the category, even the surrounding clues. For each possible answer, Watson tries to find all the material that supports or refutes that answer. Then it analyzes that evidence to come up with a set of the best answers. That's exactly what you do when you try to solve a problem, whether it's differential diagnoses in medicine or a technical-support question or financial analysis; you look for the conditions in which a particular situation might occur. What the computer is helping you do is organize all that evidence for the possible answers — the possible diagnoses — from a huge amount of content."

A version of this article appeared in the April 2011 issue of Fast Company magazine.