IBM's famous Watson computing system will be creating history as it competes in a special edition of quiz show Jeopardy! against former champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. The historic man-machine match to be aired February 14-16 will demonstrate the strides made in the advancement of the question answering (QA) technology that forms the backbone of the Watson computing system.

IBM recently announced the name of eight universities who have been collaborating with IBM Researchers to advance the particular technology. These are Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of Texas at Austin, University of Southern California (USC), Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), University at Albany (UAlbany), University of Trento (Italy), University of Massachusetts Amherst and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).

Researchers in these institutions are working with IBM on the development of a first-of-its-kind open architecture that enables them to efficiently collaborate on advancing underlying QA capabilities and then apply them to the Watson Computing system. The QA technology uses breakthrough analytics to understand what is being asked, analyze massive amounts of data, and provide the best answer based on the evidence it finds.

Applying QA technology to the real-time Jeopardy! problem is an important challenge for the field because it requires a system to respond more quickly and with a level of confidence that has not been possible to-date, says Professor Eric Nyberg of Carnegie Mellon, which established the Open Advancement of Question-Answering initiative (OAQA) with IBM in 2008.

Pointing out that the idea of a computer providing specific, accurate and authoritative answers to a question asked by a human has fired imaginations since the beginning of the computer age, he said that it was OAQA that is transforming this science fiction into reality and in such an advanced form.  Jeopardy! requires forms of reasoning that are quite sophisticated, using  metaphors, puns, and puzzles that go beyond basic understanding of the language. As a challenge problem, Jeopardy! will stretch the state of the art.

Dr. David Ferrucci, leader of the IBM Watson project team also said, The success of the Jeopardy! challenge will break barriers associated with computing technology's ability to process and understand human language, and will have profound effects on science, technology and business.

IBM has averred that the ongoing research collaborations with the universities will help advance Watson's ability to transform the way businesses and society work and improve all kinds of industries, such as healthcare, banking, government, etc.