IBM has announced that it will provide a Watson supercomputer system to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) for a three year period, the first time that a complete Watson system has been provided to a university. Faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates will have opportunities to work directly with the Watson system. Not only will Watson be the object of Artificial Intelligence (AI) research, but it will also (virtually) attend courses in English and math to hone its analytic skills.
Watson has been given a unique ability to understand natural language, sift through and identify data of interest, and to quickly answer questions put to it while providing evidence to back up those answers. The two major goals for IBM and RPI are to improve Watson's mathematical ability and to aid its recognition and interpretation of new words. Another goal is to improve its ability to handle unstructured information, such as the flood of data in the form of images, videos and emails continually being posted on the Web.
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Why would a computer need math lessons? The key here is that we are not talking about arithmetic, but rather if Watson can figure out how to prove, for example, that pi is transcendental. Roughly speaking, real numbers that are the solution of an algebraic equation are algebraic, and all others are transcendental. Determining if a number is transcendental is quite difficult, but it happens there is a fairly easy proof for pi. Given enough background in mathematics (the necessary tools, that is), can Watson develop its own proof? No one knows at this point.
"It's a big step for us," said Michael Henesey, IBM's vice president of business development. "We consider it (Watson) absolutely strategic technology for IBM in the future. And we want to evolve it, of course, thoughtfully, but also in collaboration with the best and brightest in academia." The original Watson remains at IBM's Research Headquarters in Westchester County, about 100 miles south of the school.