The following post was written by guest contributor Steve Demello, CITRIS' Healthcare Director at UC Berkeley.
Some 300 enthusiastic students, faculty and researchers came together at Sutardja Dai Hall, the headquarters of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) at the University of California Berkeley, to watch and discuss the final episode of the Jeopardy! Challenge featuring IBM’s Watson platform. The event, distributed throughout the building and on the Internet with streaming video, included presentations and commentary about the event itself, Watson, and the future it portends for Natural Language Processing (NLP).
The event began with a welcome from Professor Paul Wright, Director of CITRIS, who underscored the importance of the Challenge and applauded IBM for its achievement. Jean Paul Jacob, CITRIS Senior Advisor and a career IBM executive, entertained the audience with a “pregame” presentation on the structure of the Jeopardy! game, the evolution and structure of Watson, and a summary of the first two days of competition.
Dr. Jacob was joined onstage by two distinguished commentators – Professor Shankar Sastry, Dean of the UC Berkeley College of Engineering, and Dr. Horst Simon, Deputy Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory – on a set mimicking the game show itself, including Berkeley’s own version of Watson, dubbed “Chaplin”. Drs. Sastry and Simon commented before, at breaks during, and after the broadcast about the game, the technology, and future implications. They were joined in discussion by an engaged audience that included Professor David Patterson of the UC Berkeley Computer Science department and Michael Stewart, a former Jeopardy! champion.
The event concluded with reflections from Drs. Sastry and Simon, and discussion with the audience. Both commentators agreed that Watson represents a significant step forward in leveraging NLP, and that the capabilities demonstrated on Jeopardy! will be applied to a variety of areas, such as customer service. Both praised the “human ingenuity” at the heart of the technology, and Dr. Simon urged the group to consider this as an evolutionary step in a process that began in the 1940’s and 1950’s with early breakthroughs in computation. The commentators and audience both expressed their hope that IBM will share as much as possible with the broader research community, so that it can learn from what has been accomplished and to drive this exciting area of research forward.
Perhaps Professor Sastry best summed up the evening when he said that, as a technologist, “this was more exciting than the Super Bowl … with better ads.”